Institut für Evolution und Ökologie

The Hilgendorf Lecture

The lecture is named after Franz M. Hilgendorf (1834-1904), a palaeontologist from Tübingen who, in 1863, constructed the first empirical phylogenetic tree of fossil organisms using snail shells. He thus provided the first fossil proof of gradual evolution and speciation as proposed by Darwin’s theory of evolution.

In memento of this work, the Hilgendorf Lecture series promotes evolutionary thinking across disciplines. Internationally renowned scientists present their latest work or show where evolutionary thinking can inform other research areas. The lecture is open to the public and addresses undergraduate and advanced students, postdocs and members of staff from various fields.

Hilgendorf lectures


Dr. Ingmar Werneburg



for hosts

 for speakers

WHEN?   Wed 1715 - 1900    

WHERE?  Lecture hall S320 • Hölderlinstraße 12 • Tübingen (GM).

Forthcoming talks (WiSe 2020/2021)

Date Speaker and Abstract

13 Nov 2020 (Friday)

Host: Claudio Tennie

Mark Moore

Dr. Mark Moore (University of New England, Armidale, Australia).

This talk will be given online during Meeting StEvE

Stone tools and cognitive evolution: Insights from stone-flaking experiments

The 3.4 million-year history of stone flaking is perhaps our best source of empirical evidence for evolving hominin cognitive capacities. But how do we interpret that evidence in a way that is meaningful for cognitive studies? In this talk I will first review the ‘standard story’ of stone tool design and cognitive evolution, and then argue that the consensus narrative—driven by assertions of goal-directed, top-down design processes—is epistemologically unwarranted.  Next I will describe our recent experiments that removed complex intentions from the stone-flaking process and showed that the ostensibly complex early tool forms at the heart of the standard story can in fact be created by relatively mindless, bottom-up design. The talk concludes by presenting a model of hominin cognitive evolution that incorporates these empirical observations.


09 Dec 2020 (Wednesday)

Host: Oliver Bossdorf
News | Biology

Prof. Marc T. J. Johnson, Ph.D. (University of Toronto, Centre for Urban Environments).

This talk will be given online via Zoom.

The Evolution of Life in the Urban Jungle

Urban areas represent the fastest growing ecosystem on earth, in which the development of cities dramatically changes the biotic and abiotic environment to create novel ecosystems. Despite the importance of urbanization, we have little understanding of how urbanization affects the evolution of species that live in cities. In this talk, I will discuss the most current science about how cities are affecting evolution in plants and animals, from elevating mutation rates to driving novel adaptions, to giving rise to new species through the process of urban driven speciation. I will then describe our research on a single model organisms, white clover, in which we have investigated whether urbanization affects natural selection, genetic drift, and gene flow. We are currently extending this work to understand if urbanization throughout the world is leading to convergent evolution at a global scale. I will conclude with a discussion of the applied importance of understanding evolution in cities.

Previous talks

WiSe 2019/2020

Date Speaker and Abstract

06 Dec 2019 (Friday)

Host: Katharina Foerster

Prof. Dr. Mike Bruford (Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff, UK).

Note exceptional time (Friday) and location (Alte Aula, Münzgasse)

Conserving Genomic Diversity in a Changing World

Genomic diversity (GD) is one of the three key components of biological diversity that can be measured, and thirty years of population genetic (and now genomic) research have shown that GD estimators can provide sensitive indictors of changes in demographic processes manifested in  population  size,  connectivity,  inbreeding,  introgression/hybridization  among  others.  Yet, despite its proven record, GD is rarely incorporated into conservation planning, and we have to ask  the  question  “why?”  and  examine  the  prospects  for  its  more  meaningful  inclusion  in  conservation  policy  and  management  in  the  future.  I  will  examine  the  reasons  for  the  limited  traction that genetic science has gained in conservation, exemplify some case studies from our own   work   where   genetic   and   genomic   data   can   fundamentally   change   conservation   management action and discuss prospects for how this situation may improve as we transition into a new decade of conservation planning.


08 Jan 2020
Host: Katerina Harvati

Prof. Dr. Ruth Ley (Department of Microbiome Science, Max Planck Inst. for Developmental Biology, Tübingen)

The role of the microbiome in human genetic adaptation

Human populations have adapted genetically to a variety of local environments across the globe. They have not done so alone, as humans harbour microbiomes acquired from other individuals and from the environment. A subset of host-associated microbes can affect host traits, and these microbes can also be under the genetic influence of the host. Microbiomes can thereby enable or otherwise affect the host’s adaptation to local environments. Our work has highlighted three examples where the microbiome has likely contributed to adaptive trait variation in humans. (1) The strongest association between gut microbiome composition and human genotype is between the human lactate gene (LCT) and the abundance of gut Bifidobacteria. This is true for multiple populations of European descent and is dependent on milk consumption. (2) We have also recently linked the variation in copy number of the salivary amylase gene (AMY1) with the composition and function of the gut microbiome. (3) The gut microbes for which humans have the strongest genetic predisposition belong to the family Christesenellaceae. Intriguingly, these bacteria are also associated with a lean human body type and can induce leanness in mice. Other known examples of local adaptations in humans exist, where future studies may investigate how microbes interact with host adaptive alleles in the process of host adaptive evolution. Despite the potential role of microbiomes in moderating host genetic adaptation, evolutionary models that integrate the interactions between beneficial microbes and beneficial host alleles during the process of host adaptation remain to be developed.

29 Jan 2020

Host: Oliver Bossdorf

Prof. Dr. Carol Lee (Centre of Rapid Evolution, Univ. of Wisconsin)

Note exceptional location (Hörsaal N10, Auf der Morgenstelle 3)

Rapid genomic evolution during habitat invasions

The ability of populations to expand their geographic ranges, whether as invaders, agricultural strains, or climate migrants, presents among the most serious global problems today. However, fundamental mechanisms remain poorly understood regarding factors that enable certain populations, such as biological invaders, to rapidly transition to novel habitats. According to one hypothesis, environmental fluctuations in the
native range could promote successful invasions in novel habitats by imposing balancing selection on key traits and maintaining the genetic variation that enables rapid adaptation. Here, we test the genomic
predictions of this hypothesis by performing whole genome sequencing of multiple independent invasive freshwater and native saline populations of the copepod Eurytemora affinis complex. We found that invasive populations have repeatedly responded to selection through the parallel use of the same SNPs and genomic loci, and remarkably, these same loci are enriched for signatures of long-term balancing selection in the native ranges. Our results support the hypothesis that fluctuating habitats can promote invasive success and that balancing selection could serve as a widespread and important mechanism enabling rapid adaptation in nature.