3. The Origin of Species


2017-02-01. Finding the Speed of Evolution in a Study of Bird Beaks. By Steph Yin, The New York Times.

2016-08-17. From Fins Into Hands: Scientists Discover a Deep Evolutionary Link. By Carl Zimmer, The New York Times.

2016-02. Inside the Eye: Nature’s Most Exquisite Creation. By Ed Yong, National Geographic.

2015-11-24. Odd creature was ancient ancestor of today’s giraffes. By  Sid Perkins, Science.

2015-04-17. How the wolf became the dog. By David Grimm, Science (AAAS).

2014-12-01. Ability to consume alcohol may have shaped primate evolution. By Sarah C. P. Williams, Science.

2014-09-11. Changing how we farm can save evolutionary diversity, study suggests. Excerpt: A new study by biologists at Stanford University and UC Berkeley highlights the dramatic hit on the evolutionary diversity of wildlife when forests are transformed into agricultural lands. ...The researchers studied nearly 500 species of birds in Costa Rica in three types of habitat, and calculated the birds’ phylogenetic diversity, a measure of the evolutionary history embodied in wildlife. ...The study, to be published in the Sept. 12 issue of the journal Science, found that the phylogenetic diversity of the birds fared worst in habitats characterized by intensive farmlands consisting of single crops. Such intensive monocultures supported 900 million fewer years of evolutionary history, on average, compared with untouched forest reserves. The researchers found a middle ground in diversified agriculture, or farmlands with multiple crops adjoined by small patches of forest. Such landscapes supported on average 600 million more years of evolutionary history than the single crop farms. “The loss of habitat to agriculture is the primary driver of diversity loss globally, but we hadn’t known until now how agriculture affected diversity in an evolutionary context,” said study co-lead author Daniel Karp, UC Berkeley postdoctoral research fellow in environmental science, policy and management. “We found that forests outperform agriculture when it comes to supporting a larger range of species that are more distantly related, so by maintaining patches of tropical trees and multiple crops on their land, farmers can enhance evolutionarily distinct species.”... http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2014/09/11/diversified-farming-evolutionary-diversity/. By Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley News Center.

2013-11-07. Fast-Paced Evolution in the Andes. Excerpt:   In 1799 the great naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and his companions set out from Caracas, Venezuela, to climb the Andes. They struggled up a mountainside enveloped in mist so thick they had to clamber over rocks by hand. When the fog cleared, von Humboldt was left astonished by the view. Vast grasslands stretched all around him, home to an astonishing number of different trees, shrubs and flowers. ...Von Humboldt had stumbled into a remarkable ecosystem, known as a Páramo. Páramos blanket the Andes in Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, growing at altitudes 9,200 to 14,800 feet above sea level.  “They’re like islands in a sea of forest,” said Santiago Madriñán, an expert on Páramos at the University of the Andes in Colombia. All told, Páramos cover about 13,500 square miles — an area the size of Maryland. In that small space, Dr. Madriñán and other researchers have found 3,431 species of vascular plants, most of them found nowhere else on Earth. ...the Páramos are even more remarkable than von Humboldt could have realized. They are the fastest evolving place on the planet.... http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/12/science/high-above-sea-level-evolutionary-hot-spots.html. Carl Zimmer, The New York Times.

2013-09-26.  In Galápagos, An Insidious Threat to Darwin's Finches.  Excerpt: The birds that have come to be known as Darwin's finches have long intrigued students of evolution. But now a parasitic fly introduced to the Galápagos Islands is threatening the future of one or more of these iconic finch species.... http://e360.yale.edu/feature/in_galapagos_an_insidious_threat_to_darwins_finches/2694/. by Elizabeth Kolbert, Environment360.

2013 Feb 04.  Pigeons Get a New Look. By Carl Zimmer, The New York Times. Excerpt: In 1855, Charles Darwin took up a new hobby. He started raising pigeons. [Read What Charles Darwin Wrote About Pigeons in ‘On the Origin of Species’ - LINK: http://documents.nytimes.com/charles-darwin-on-the-origin-of-species?ref=science#p=30] ...“The diversity of the breeds is something astonishing,” he wrote a few years later in “On the Origin of Species” — a work greatly informed by his experiments with the birds. Pigeon breeding, Darwin argued, was an analogy for what happened in the wild. Nature played the part of the fancier, selecting which individuals would be able to reproduce. Natural selection might work more slowly than human breeders, but it had far more time to produce the diversity of life around us. ...Now Michael D. Shapiro, a biologist at the University of Utah, ...reports that it has delved into a source of information Darwin didn’t even know about: the pigeon genome. So far, they have sequenced the DNA of 40 breeds, seeking to pinpoint the mutations that produced their different forms. ...The new work supports Darwin’s original claim that all pigeon breeds descend from the rock pigeon, whose range stretched from Europe to North Africa and east into Asia. [Times Topic: Charles Darwin - LINK: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/d/charles_robert_darwin/index.html] ...humans bred the birds to carry messages. By the eighth century B.C., Greeks were using pigeons to send the results of Olympic Games from town to town. Genghis Khan used pigeons to create a communication network across his empire in 12th century A.D.  ...pigeon breeders produced crests on the birds on five separate occasions. The scientists ...found that all of them shared precisely the same mutation in precisely the same gene, EphB2. ...The new research suggests that the crested version of EphB2 arose in a surprising way. It mutated only once, rather than five separate times….

2012 July 02. A Giant Tortoise's Death Gives Extinction a Face. By Carl Hulse, The NY Times. Excerpt: George, the last giant tortoise of his subspecies in this archipelago, was found dead in his corral at the Charles Darwin Research Station here the morning of June 24 — to the shock of his devoted caretakers, who had hoped he would survive for decades to continue his line…The Galápagos is home to other types of giant tortoises, though their numbers remain low and their populations vulnerable…“We were expecting to have George another 50 years,” he said as he stood before the pen, which houses a heart-shaped pool in which the tortoise’s caretakers had hoped to entice him to produce an heir with two biologically close female tortoises who remain. “It feels kind of empty.” George’s death was a singular moment, representing the extinction of a creature right before human eyes — not dinosaurs wiped out eons ago or animals consigned to oblivion by hunters who assumed there would always be more….

2011 September 21.  A Knack for Bashing Orthodoxy. By Michael Powell, The NY Times.  Excerpt: "...Prominent scientists and intellectuals cast Professor Richard Dawkins as the herald angel of a selfish culture, accusing him and his fellow sociobiologists of setting the cultural stage for the “I got mine” age of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, a man of the political left, painted a picture out of a George Orwell novel. “If biological determinism is a weapon in the struggle between classes,” he wrote with two other scientists, “then the universities are weapons factories, and their teaching and research faculties are the engineers, designers.”
To Professor Dawkins, this badly distorted his science and his political leanings, which are resolutely liberal… He was writing about the behavior of genes, not about psychological and emotional states….
…Professor Dawkins’s great intellectual conviction is that evolution is progressive, and tends to lead to more and more complexity. Species, in his view, often arrive at similar solutions to evolutionary puzzles — the need for ears, eyes, arms or an octopus’s tentacle. And, often although not invariably, bigger brains. So the saber-toothed tiger shows up as a cat in Europe and Asia, and as a marsupial in South America. Different species seized on the same carnivorous solution…. [See also a video interview with Professor Dawkins]

2011 August 8. A Colorful Way to Watch Evolution in Nebraska’s Sand Dunes. By Hillary Rosner, The New York Times. Excerpt: Nebraska’s sandhills are the largest sand dunes in North America, spreading for more than 20,000 square miles, over more than a quarter of the state...
For a team of evolutionary biologists and geneticists from Harvard University who spent part of their summer in Valentine, on the sandhills’ northern edge, the draw is not the quartz itself, but a particular mouse whose coat color matches it. They’re using pigmentation to study a central question of biology: How do organisms adapt to their environments?
...Today, the Harvard group, run by Hopi Hoekstra, professor and curator of mammals for the university’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, is studying color to piece together evidence of how genetic diversity occurs, and how natural selection acts on that diversity.
They want to understand the specific genetic mechanisms that lead to changes in physical appearance, and then how those physical changes affect an organism’s fitness — how likely it is to survive and reproduce...

2010 October 9. On Guadalcanal, Studying Evolution. by Chris Filardi, The New York Times. Excerpt: ...We used to think islands received colonists through a one-way flow of diversity from overflowing continental systems. Molecular analyses are now revealing that island evolution is a two-way street, with colonists arriving on islands, evolving into wonderfully unique forms, and then often backtracking to reinvigorate continental diversity. This means that islands are engines of diversification in their own right and far more important to global patterns of diversity than we once thought...

2010 July 19. Discovery Could Help Date Monkey-Ape Spilt. By Sindya N. Shanoo, The New York Times. Excerpt: Scientists agree that Old World monkeys and apes share a common ancestry, but at some point two lineages diverged, one giving rise to the Old World monkeys and another to both apes and humans. Eactly when the split happened is a matter of debate.
A primate skull unearthed outside of Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the closest common ancestor to apes and Old World monkeys, researchers say, and helps date the split. Sediment records indicate that the fossil is 25 million to 29 million years old, making 24 million to 29 million years ago the window in which the monkey-ape split may have occurred. The ape and human lineages split later.
…Based on the skull, the primate was medium-sized and weighed about 30 pounds to 40 pounds. It had broad upper molars and a long, baboonlike snout.

2010 Summer. An Inordinate Fondness for Tropical Species. By Kathleen M. Wong, Science Matters @ Berkeley. Excerpt: The tropics are hotbeds of biodiversity. Compared to other regions, the variety of birds, insects, plants and other species in the steamy forests of the equator is off the charts.
…“In the Amazon, an area the size of a football field can have 300 different species of trees. You’re lucky in California if you get 10 or 15,” says Paul Fine, a Berkeley professor of integrative biology. “How can all of these species coexist? Why don’t they outcompete each other?” Fine is experimenting with rainforest trees to find the answers. In the process, he aims to identify the factors that help generate biological diversity.
…Much of his research takes place in Iquitos, Peru. Over the eons, rivers have carried soils to this portion of the Western Amazon from many corners of South America. Today, soil mosaics of white sand, clay, and flooded forests (habitats that are inundated for several months of the year) are found within a few hectares of one another.
…These conditions make Iquitos an ideal place to study how habitat variety affects speciation. To do so, Fine has been transplanting trees from one habitat to another. He is observing, for example, whether slow-growing trees associated with poor nutrient soils will grow faster on richer soils. “We want to see whether plants can turn these strategies on and off, whether they have the genetic makeup to deal with a variety of different environments,” Fine says.
…Fine is [also] now examining the chemical defenses trees produce in certain habitats… “We’re guessing that widely separated populations are not likely to have the same kinds of insect assemblages eating them. If we are right, we predict that this is going to drive selection for different kinds of plant defenses. It would be a kind of local adaptation to an ‘enemy environment.’” … He is also attempting to cross-pollinate the tree populations from different localities and habitats, to compare what insect-repelling chemicals the hybrids produce versus their parents.

2010 May 19. All Life Forms Share Single Genetic Inheritance. IANS, The Times of India. Excerpt: …More than 150 years ago, Darwin proposed the theory of universal common ancestry (UCA), linking all forms of life by a shared genetic heritage from single-celled micro-organisms to humans.
…Over the last century and a half, qualitative evidence for this theory has steadily grown, in the numerous, surprising transitional forms found in the fossil record, for example, and in the identification of sweeping fundamental biological similarities at the molecular level.
…Harnessing powerful computational tools and applying specialized statistics, Theobald found that the evidence overwhelmingly supports UCA, regardless of horizontal gene transfer or multiple origins of life.

2009 September 7. Where Did All the Flowers Come From? By Carl Zimmer, The NY Times. Excerpt: Throughout his life, Charles Darwin surrounded himself with flowers. ...But despite his intimate familiarity with flowers, Darwin once wrote that their evolution was “an abominable mystery.”
...The fossil record...offered Darwin little enlightenment about the early evolution of flowers. At the time, the oldest fossils of flowering plants came from rocks that had formed from 100 million to 66 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. Paleontologists found a diversity of forms, not a few primitive forerunners.
Long after Darwin’s death in 1882, the history of flowers continued to vex scientists. But talk to experts today, and there is a note of guarded optimism....
The discovery of new fossils is one source of that new excitement. But scientists are also finding a wealth of clues in living flowers and their genes. They are teasing apart the recipes encoded in plant DNA for building different kinds of flowers. Their research indicates that flowers evolved into their marvelous diversity in much the same way as eyes and limbs have: through the recycling of old genes for new jobs....

2009 February 9. On Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’. The NY Times. In addition to being the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, 2009 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of his fundamental work, "On the Origin of Species." As with many original sources, it is known mostly by reputation. Few people who are not biologists read Darwin in the original. But his writing can still offer surprises, insights and pleasures, and it can be sampled here, with selections by prominent scientists of their favorite passages and discussions of why these passages are important....

2009 February 9. Darwin, Ahead of His Time, Is Still Influential. By Nicholas Wade, The New York Times. Excerpt: Darwin’s theory of evolution has become the bedrock of modern biology. But for most of the theory’s existence since 1859, even biologists have ignored or vigorously opposed it, in whole or in part.
It is a testament to Darwin’s extraordinary insight that it took almost a century for biologists to understand the essential correctness of his views.
Biologists quickly accepted the idea of evolution, but for decades they rejected natural selection, the mechanism Darwin proposed for the evolutionary process....
And biologists are still arguing about group-level selection, the idea that natural selection can operate at the level of groups as well as on individuals....
It is somewhat remarkable that a man who died in 1882 should still be influencing discussion among biologists....

2009 February 9. Genes Offer New Clues in Old Debate on Species’ Origins. By CAROL KAESUK YOON, The New York Times. Excerpt: Charles Darwin called it the “mystery of mysteries,” a problem so significant and one he was so sure he had solved that he named his world-changing work after it: “On the Origin of Species.” So he might be surprised to learn that 150 years after the publication of his book, the study of how species originate, a process known as speciation, is not only one of the field’s most active areas of study, but also one of its most contentious....
...“A decade ago, the joke was that spell-checkers regularly attempted to substitute the word ‘speciation’ with ‘speculation,’” Mohamed Noor, an evolutionary biologist at Duke University, wrote in a commentary in the journal Nature. But he added, “Speculation in this area will soon be a thing of the past.”
To support such optimism, researchers point to the recent discovery of so-called speciation genes. Most biologists define a species as a group that is reproductively isolated — it cannot interbreed or exchange genes with any other. The newly discovered genes cause reproductive isolation between two groups by causing their offspring, or hybrids, to be infertile or die....

2009 February 9. Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live. By Carl Safina, The New York Times. Excerpt: Charles Darwin gets so much credit, we can’t distinguish evolution from him.
Equating evolution with Charles Darwin ignores 150 years of discoveries, including most of what scientists understand about evolution. Such as: Gregor Mendel’s patterns of heredity (which gave Darwin’s idea of natural selection a mechanism — genetics — by which it could work); the discovery of DNA (which gave genetics a mechanism and lets us see evolutionary lineages); developmental biology (which gives DNA a mechanism); studies documenting evolution in nature (which converted the hypothetical to observable fact); evolution’s role in medicine and disease (bringing immediate relevance to the topic); and more.
By propounding “Darwinism,” even scientists and science writers perpetuate an impression that evolution is about one man, one book, one “theory.”...

2009 February 9. Crunching the Data for the Tree of Life. By Carl Zimmer, The New York Times. Excerpt: Michael Sanderson..., a biologist at the University of Arizona, is part of an effort to figure out how all the estimated 500,000 species of plants are related to one another. For years now the researchers have sequenced DNA from thousands of species.... The pace of their progress gives Dr. Sanderson hope that they will draw the entire evolutionary tree of plants within the next few years....
There’s just one problem. “We have no way to visualize such a tree at the moment,” he said....
... Biologists have responded to the problem by enlisting the help of computer scientists and software designers from companies like Google and Adobe to find a new way of looking at evolution. Their goal is to create a program that allows scientists and nonscientists alike to fly through evolutionary trees....

2009 February 9. Seeing the Risks of Humanity’s Hand in Species Evolution. By CORNELIA DEAN, The New York Times. Excerpt: ...human predation is causing target species to evolve to reproduce at younger ages and smaller sizes, to their short-term benefit but to the long-term harm of the species.
...Because humans discovered fire, the benefits of hunting in teams and the bounties of agriculture, people have been changing the natural landscape, causing plants and animals to evolve in response....
...Human behavior has affected human evolution as well.... Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, humanity’s collective ability to change the world has been powered by fossil fuels and multiplied by machines. Often, the result has been evolutionary change at a fast pace and on a broad scale....

2009 February 9. Darwin the Comedian. Now That’s Entertainment! By JOHN TIERNEY, The New York Times. Excerpt: ...Officially, he is a science historian named Richard Milner, but he regularly turns into his hero on stage — complete with white beard, bowler and cape — in a one-man musical, “Charles Darwin: Live & In Concert.”...
“Everyone should find his own Darwin,” Mr. Milner says. “The man was so large. He was a zoologist, a botanist, an explorer, a travel writer, a philosopher, an abolitionist, a doting father, a radical intellectual revolutionary with an utterly conservative and blemish-free lifestyle. He revolutionized every field he touched, and he was trained in none of them.”
...Mr. Milner has turned the shy naturalist into a suavely bemused performer doing patter songs about trilobites, garfish and tortoise shells. (You can see excerpts at nytimes.com/science.)....

2007 June 29. Study Traces Cat’s Ancestry to Middle East. By Nicholas Wade. The New York Times. Excerpt: … [Carlos A. Driscoll of theNational Cancer Institute and his colleagues have] spent more than six years collecting species of wildcat in places as far apart as Scotland, Israel, Namibia and Mongolia. He then analyzed the DNA of the wildcats and of many house cats and fancy cats. Five subspecies of wildcat are distributed across the Old World. … Their patterns of DNA fall into five clusters. The DNA of all house cats and fancy cats falls within the Near Eastern wildcat cluster, making clear that this subspecies is their ancestor… Wheat, rye and barley had been domesticated in the Near East by 10,000 years ago, so it seems likely that the granaries of early Neolithic villages harbored mice and rats, and that the settlers welcomed the cats’ help in controlling them. Unlike other domestic animals, which were tamed by people, cats probably domesticated themselves, which could account for the haughty independence of their descendants. … Until recently the cat was commonly believed to have been domesticated in ancient Egypt, where it was a cult animal. But three years ago a group of French archaeologists led by Jean-Denis Vigne discovered the remains of an 8-month-old cat buried with its human owner at a Neolithic site in Cyprus. …

2007 June 26. Fast-Reproducing Microbes Provide a Window on Natural Selection. The New York Times. By Carl Zimmer. Excerpt: In the corner of a laboratory at Michigan State University, one of the longest-running experiments in evolution is quietly unfolding. A dozen flasks of sugary broth swirl on a gently rocking table. Each is home to hundreds of millions of Escherichia coli, the common gut microbe. These 12 lines of bacteria have been reproducing since 1989, when the biologist Richard E. Lenski bred them from a single E. coli. “I originally thought it might go a couple thousand generations, but it’s kept going and stayed interesting,” Dr. Lenski said. He is up to 40,000 generations now, and counting. In that time, the bacteria have changed significantly. For one thing, they are bigger — twice as big on average as their common ancestor. They are also far better at reproducing in these flasks, dividing 70 percent faster than their ancestor. These changes have emerged through spontaneous mutations and natural selection, and Dr. Lenski and his colleagues have been able to watch them unfold.
When Dr. Lenski began his experiment 18 years ago, only a few scientists believed they could observe evolution so closely. Today evolutionary experiments on microbes are under way in many laboratories. And thanks to the falling price of genome-sequencing technology, scientists can now zero in on the precise genetic changes that unfold during evolution, a power previous generations of researchers only dreamed of. In the past century scientists have gathered a wealth of evidence about the power of natural selection. But much of that evidence has been indirect. In the late 1980s a few scientists began experimenting with microbes, hoping to observe natural selection in something closer to real time. Microbes can reproduce several times a day, and a billion of them can fit comfortably in a flask. Scientists can carefully control the conditions in which the microbes live, setting up different kinds of evolutionary pressures. Within a few hundred generations, Dr. Lenski was seeing changes, and the bacteria have been changing ever since. The microbes have adapted to their environment, reproducing faster and faster over the years. One striking lesson of the experiment is that evolution often follows the same path. “We’ve found a lot of parallel changes,” Dr. Lenski said. … Scientists have long known that underlying these visible changes were genetic ones. But only now are they documenting the mutations that allow this evolution to happen in the first place. …

2007 June 26. From a Few Genes, Life’s Myriad Shapes. The New York Times. By Carol Kaesuk Yoon. Excerpt: Since its humble beginnings as a single cell, life has evolved into a spectacular array of shapes and sizes... But just how such diversity of form could arise out of evolution’s mess of random genetic mutations … has remained one of the most fascinating and intractable questions in evolutionary biology. Now finally, after more than a century of puzzling, scientists are finding answers coming fast and furious and from a surprising quarter, the field known as evo-devo. Just coming into its own as a science, evo-devo is the combined study of evolution and development, the process by which a nubbin of a fertilized egg transforms into a full-fledged adult. And what these scientists are finding is that development, a process that has for more than half a century been largely ignored in the study of evolution, appears to have been one of the major forces shaping the history of life on earth. For starters, evo-devo researchers are finding that the evolution of complex new forms, rather than requiring many new mutations or many new genes as had long been thought, can instead be accomplished by a much simpler process requiring no more than tweaks to already existing genes and developmental plans. “We’re still a very young field,” Dr. Gilbert said. “But I think this is a new evolutionary synthesis, an emerging evolutionary synthesis. I think we’re seeing it.”

2007 June 26. The Human Family Tree Has Become a Bush With Many Branches. By John Noble Wilford. The New York Times. Excerpt: Time was, fossils and a few stone artifacts were about the only means scientists had of tracing the lines of early human evolution. And gaps in such material evidence were frustratingly wide. When molecular biologists joined the investigation some 30 years ago, their techniques of genetic analysis yielded striking ...

2007 June 26. Darwin Still Rules, but Some Biologists Dream of a Paradigm Shift. By Douglas H. Erwin. The New York Times. Excerpt: É Paradigm shifts are the stuff of scientific revolutions. They change how we view the world, the sorts of questions that scientists consider worth asking, and even how we do science. The discovery of DNA marked one such shift, the theory of plate tectonics another. Éour evolutionary framework ... was constructed from the 1930s to 1950s by early geneticists, paleontologists and others, who disagreed about the efficacy of natural selection in driving evolutionary change (Darwin's big idea) and about the nature of the underlying genetic variation upon which natural selection could act. What they came to agree on was called the modern synthesis Éthat mutations to DNA create new variants of existing genes within a species. Natural selection, driven by competition for resources, allows the best-adapted individuals to produce the most surviving offspring. So adaptive variants of genes become more common. ÉIn the past few years every element of this paradigm has been attacked. Concerns about the sources of evolutionary innovation and discoveries about how DNA evolves have led some to propose that mutations, not selection, drive much of evolution, or at least the main episodes of innovation, like the origin of major animal groups, including vertebrates. The Achilles' heel of the modern synthesis, as noted by the philosopher Ron Amundson, is that it deals primarily with the transmission of genes from one generation to the next, but not how genes produce bodies. The failure to consider how biodiversity grows reflects an even more troubling flaw in the modern synthesis: it lacks any real sense of history. ÉMost species modify their environment and this often changes how selection affects them: they construct, at least in part, their own environment. As evolutionary biologists we have little understanding of what these processes mean for evolution.
Does all this add up to a new modern synthesis? There is certainly no consensus among evolutionary biologists, but development, ecology, genetics and paleontology all provide new perspectives on how evolution operates, and how we should study it....


4 December 2006. The American Geological Society website about American education and the topic of evolution.

21 February 2006. Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition. By KENNETH CHANG. NY Times. Excerpt: In the recent skirmishes over evolution, advocates who have pushed to dilute its teaching have regularly pointed to a petition signed by 514 scientists and engineers. The petition, they say, is proof that scientific doubt over evolution persists. But random interviews with 20 people who signed the petition and a review of the public statements of more than a dozen others suggest that many are evangelical Christians, whose doubts about evolution grew out of their religious beliefs. And even the petition's sponsor, the Discovery Institute in Seattle, says that only a quarter of the signers are biologists, whose field is most directly concerned with evolution. The other signers include 76 chemists, 75 engineers, 63 physicists and 24 professors of medicine. ...The petition makes no mention of intelligent design, the proposition that life is so complex that it is best explained as the design of an intelligent being. Rather, it states: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." A Web site with the full list of those who signed the petition was made available yesterday by the institute at http://dissentfromdarwin.org. The signers all claim doctorates in science or engineering. The list includes a few nationally prominent scientists like James M. Tour, a professor of chemistry at Rice University; Rosalind W. Picard, director of the affective computing research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Philip S. Skell, an emeritus professor of chemistry at Penn State who is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences....

22 November 2005. In Give and Take of Evolution, a Surprising Contribution From Islands. By CARL ZIMMER. NY Times. Excerpt: Islands hold a special place in the hearts of evolutionary biologists. When Charles Darwin visited the Galápagos Islands in 1835, he was stunned by the diversity of birds, which helped guide him to his theory of evolution by natural selection. Beginning in the middle of the last century, the ornithologist Ernst Mayr laid the foundation for the modern understanding of the way new species evolve, arguing that they mainly emerged when populations became geographically isolated. Mayr based his theory on his studies of birds from Pacific islands. Yet islands have generally been considered evolutionary dead ends. After animals and plants emigrated from the mainland, it was believed that they became so specialized for island life that they could not leave. They eventually became extinct, only to be replaced by new arrivals from the mainland....But Dr. Filardi and Robert Moyle, a colleague at the museum, have found evidence that islands can act as engines of evolution instead of dead ends. Animals can spread from island to island, giving rise to an explosion of new species, and even colonizing the mainland again. The results suggest that conserving biodiversity on islands is vital for the evolution of new species in the future.
Dr. Filardi made this discovery by studying a group of Pacific island birds, known as monarch flycatchers, ...In one lineage, the monarch flycatchers tripled their body size in less than a million years. "This stuff can happen really fast," Dr. Filardi said. This evolutionary wave returned to its origins when flycatchers from the Solomon Islands colonized Australia and New Guinea.

24 May 2005. New Rule on Endangered Species in the Southwest. By FELICITY BARRINGER. NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON, May 23 - The southwestern regional director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has instructed members of his staff to limit their use of the latest scientific studies on the genetics of endangered plants and animals when deciding how best to preserve and recover them. At issue is what happens once a fish, animal, plant or bird is included on the federal endangered species list as being in danger of extinction and needing protection. Dale Hall, the director of the southwestern region, in a memorandum dated Jan. 27, said that all decisions about how to return a species to robust viability must use only the genetic science in place at the time it was put on the endangered species list - in some cases the 1970's or earlier - even if there have been scientific advances in understanding the genetic makeup of a species and its subgroups in the ensuing years. His instructions can spare states in his region the expense of extensive recovery efforts. Arizona officials responsible for the recovery of Apache trout, for example, argue that the money - $2 million to $3 million in the past five years - spent on ensuring the survival of each genetic subgroup of the trout was misdirected, since the species as a whole was on its way to recovery. ...Six weeks later, his counterpart at the mountain-prairie regional office, in Denver, sent a sharp rebuttal to Mr. Hall. "Knowing if populations are genetically isolated or where gene flow is restricted can assist us in identifying recovery units that will ensure that a species will persist over time," the regional director, Ralph O. Morgenweck, wrote. "It can also ensure that unique adaptations that may be essential for future survival continue to be maintained in the species." Mr. Hall's policy, he wrote, "could run counter to the purpose of the Endangered Species Act" and "may contradict our direction to use the best available science in endangered species decisions in some cases." ...That would make it easier for officials to approve actions - like construction, logging or commercial fishing - that could reduce a species's number. ...Bruce Taubert, the assistant director for wildlife management at the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said of the new policy, "We support it," adding, in the case of the endangered Apache trout, "Why should we spend an incredible amount of time and money to do something with that species if it doesn't add to the viability and longevity of the species that was listed? By not having to worry about small genetic pools, we can do these things faster and better," Mr. Taubert said. But Philip Hedrick, a professor of population genetics at Arizona State University, said that it made no sense to ignore scientific advances in his field. "Genetics and evolutionary thinking have to be incorporated if we're going to talk about long-term sustainability of these species," he said. "Maybe in the short term you can have a few animals closely related and inbred out there, but for them to survive in any long-term sense you have to think about this long-term picture that conservation biologists have come up with over the last 25 years."

 

March 2004. Exploring Evolution -- Comprehensive website on evolution developed especially for teachers -- from UC Museum of Paleontology -- history of life, as well as the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for that history; what science is and is not; A History of Evolutionary Thought; importance of evolution to society, focusing on concerns of health, welfare, and economics; Misconceptions.

 

Articles from 2004–present

Non-chronological links:

Understanding Evolution - one-stop source for information on evolution.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Holiday Lectures

Ken Miller's website.

National Center for Science Educationarticles on evolution.

The Shape of Life - videos about the evolution of the animal kingdom on earth.

Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science
National Academy Press

New York Times articles on evolution

PBS-NOVA videos and resources on evolution.

Univ of Calif Paleontology Dept. - Evolution teaching materials

NSTA evolution links, publications, position statements

PBS - 2007 NOVA video about the Dover, PA "trial"