Darwin's key theories discussed
Press release issued: 9 September 2009
This year marks the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and 150 years since the publication of 'The Origin of Species'. A two-day conference this week, as part of the Darwin200 nationwide programme of events, will showcase the latest developments of formal models in evolution and ecology.
Mathematical models in ecology and evolution (MMEE 2009), hosted by the University of Bristol, will take place on 10 and 11 September and will explore the mathematical modelling of Darwin’s key theories. While not a mathematician himself, Darwin’s ideas find natural expression in the form of mathematical models, allowing further development and refinement of the theory.
Gregor Mendel’s results on the genetic basis of inheritance were rediscovered early in the 20th century and they were initially interpreted as an attack on Darwinian evolution through natural selection. It took mathematical modellers such as Sir Ronald Fisher, Sewall Wright and John Haldane, working in the 1930s and 40s, to bring together genetics and evolutionary theory in what is now known as the ‘modern synthesis’, or ‘neo-Darwinism’.
Many of the mathematical frameworks developed by Fisher, Wright and Haldane are also still in widespread use today, and mathematical models are now used extensively to address the problems that Darwin himself was concerned with.
Dr James Marshall, Co-chair of the organising committee and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, said: “Darwin and mathematics might seem like strange bedfellows, but they have a long and fruitful history together. Darwin’s ideas remain as current as they did on first being revealed to the world, and present a treasure trove of ideas to be modelled, investigated and refined.”
The keynote speakers of MMEE 2009 will cover the state-of-the-art in modelling: the origin of species (Professor Franjo Weissing, University of Groningen), the evolution of sex and sexual selection (Professor Hanna Kokko, University of Helsinki) and the evolution of social behaviour (Professor Rob Boyd, University of California Los Angeles), and will also give a direct link to and historical perspective on the ‘modern synthesis’ (Professor Anthony Edwards, University of Cambridge).