U of Minnesota biologist to give Warner Memorial Lecture

Marlene Zuk, a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota, is this year’s Warner Memorial Lecture speaker at UWL.

Evolutionary biologist, behavioral ecologist to lead two presentations

An evolutionary biologist and behavioral ecologist from the University of Minnesota will give two presentations as part of Warner Memorial Lecture series at UW-La Crosse.

This year’s guest lecturer Marlene Zuk is a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota, where her research focuses on animal behavior and evolution, mostly using insects as subjects. Zuk is interested in ways that people use animal behavior to think about human behavior, and vice versa, as well as in public understanding of evolution. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on many topics, including a seminar on “What’s the Alternative to Alternative Medicine?”

In addition to publishing scientific articles, Zuk has written for the “New York Times,” the “Los Angeles Times,” the “Chronicle for Higher Education” and “Natural History” magazine. She has published four books for a general audience, including “Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can’t Learn About Sex from Animals.”

Her presentations at UWL include:

• “Paleofantasy: what evolution tells us about modern life” from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, in 120 Student Union, 521 East Ave. N. Free; open to all.

Presentation abstract: We evolved to eat berries rather than bagels, to live in mud huts rather than condos, to sprint barefoot rather than play football — or did we? Are our bodies and brains truly at odds with modern life? Everyone is fond of paleofantasies, stories about how humans lived eons ago, and we use them to explain why many elements of our lives, from the food we eat to the way we raise our children, seem very distant from what nature intended. Many diets and self-help books are predicated on the notion that our behavior and bodies evolved under a certain set of circumstances, from which we deviate to our peril. Implicit in that idea is the assumption that humans in a modern society aren’t evolving any more, that we have somehow freed ourselves from evolution, or at the very least, that evolution always requires so long to act that we can’t expect to have adapted to our current circumstances. But popular theories about how our ancestors lived — and why we should emulate them — are often based on speculation, not evidence, and they reflect a basic misunderstanding about how evolution works. There was never a time when everything about us – our bodies, our minds, and our behavior – was perfectly in synch with the environment. Evolution is continuous, and all organisms alive today, whether chimpanzees, modern day hunter-gatherers, or bacteria, are all equally evolved. What really matters is the rate of evolution, which is sometimes fast and sometimes slow. Instead of trying to live like cavemen, we need to understand that process.

 

• “Rapid evolution in silence: adaptive signal loss in the Pacific field cricket” from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, in 1309 Centennial Hall, 308 N. 16th St. Free; open to all.

Presentation abstract: By nature of their conspicuousness, sexual signals can cause a conflict between natural and sexual selection, with natural selection favoring a decrease in exaggeration of an ornament and sexual selection favoring an increase. The Pacific field cricket, Teleogryllus oceanicus, is subject to an acoustically-orienting parasitoid fly where it has been introduced in Hawaii, making calling particularly risky. A novel obligately silent male morph, controlled by a single sex-linked gene, evolved within just 20 generations in some populations in Hawaii. These flatwings are protected from parasitism, but face difficulties in mate attraction and courtship. Such problems may have been overcome, and the rapid evolution of a sexual signal facilitated, by pre-existing behavioral plasticity, with individuals responding to silent environments, like those with the flatwings, by altering their response to conspecifics. Variation in this plasticity could explain the paucity of examples of rapidly-evolving secondary sexual characteristics.

 

The Warner Memorial Lecture… honors former Biology Professor James “Jim” Warner, who taught at UWL from 1963 until retiring in 1996. Warner established the Terrestrial Field Ecology Course Fund in the Department of Biology to support outdoor laboratory equipment for field ecology courses. Warner died Sept. 29, 2011, of complications of a severe automobile accident. Upon his death, his name was added to the fund and it expanded to include scholarly seminars.

 

If you go—

Who: Marlene Zuk is a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota 

What: “Paleofantasy: what evolution tells us about modern life”

When/Where: 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, in 120 Student Union, 521 East Ave. N.

What: “Rapid evolution in silence: adaptive signal loss in the Pacific field cricket” 

When/Where: 5:30-6:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, in 1309 Centennial Hall, 308 N. 16th St.

Admission: Free; open to all.