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

WHEN?   Wed 1730 - 1915  

WHERE?  GUZ lecture hall 3M07 • Schnarrenbergstraße 94-96 • Tübingen (GM).

Forthcoming talks (WS 2021/22)

Date Speaker and Abstract

22 December 2021 (Wednesday)

Host: Hervé Bocherens

Prof. Dr. Kathryn Fitzsimmons (Department of Geosciences, University of Tübingen)

Note exceptional time: 17:30
Note exceptional location: lecture hall 3M07 of GUZ building (Schnarrenbergstraße 94-96)

The Silk Road and the Dreaming: interactions between climate, landscape and people on desert margins

The Earth’s land surface – its diverse landscapes – have provided our species with everything we need to survive. We, in turn, have adapted to changing landscapes, dispersed across continents, and thrived. The human story is a thrilling adventure played out over the last few million years, spanning the full range of ecosystems our world has to offer.
In this lecture I will take you on a tour of possibilities for integrating earth sciences with archaeological traces of human response to changing landscapes, with a focus on dryland environments. We will visit the desert margins of Australia (the Dreaming), where close cooperation between geologists, archaeologists and local indigenous people has uncovered evidence for preferential exploitation of lacustrine resources while the lakes were drying rather than when they were full, and for incredible human resilience in times of drastically reduced mobility due to lake filling. Moving to Central Asia (the Silk Road) and its substantial wind-blown dust (loess) deposits, we will explore the likely climatic contexts which formed the backdrop for hominin dispersals and interactions between multiple human species.
Each of these dramatic human stories took place against a geological backdrop of changing climates and landscapes which are most effectively reconstructed by integrating the earth science tools of geochronology, geochemistry, remote sensing, GIS and climate modelling, with archaeological enquiry. I will discuss exciting new approaches now available to extract more meaningful data from the terrestrial sediments which preserve past environments and their human stories.

26 January 2022 (Wednesday)

Host: Nico Michiels

Prof. Michel C. Milinkovitch (Dept of Genetics & Evolution, University of Geneva, Switzerland)

Note exceptional time: 17:30
Note exceptional location: lecture hall 3M07 of GUZ building (Schnarrenbergstraße 94-96)

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Reaction-Diffusion in Vertebrate Skin Colour Patterning

Alan Turing proposed a reaction-diffusion (RD) process as the chemical basis of morphogenesis. Despite the elegance of this model, its relevance for the precise description of morphogenesis in real organisms is largely disputed. I will discuss how mesoscopic properties of biological dynamical systems (including unsuspected subtle features) are captured by simple RD models without integrating the unmanageable profusion of variables at lower scales.

Previous talks

SS 2021

Date Speaker and Abstract

12 May 2021 (Wednesday)

Host: Oliver Betz


Prof. Marguerite Butler, Ph.D. (Department of Biology, University of Hawaii).

Note exeptional time: 19:15

This talk will be given online via Zoom.

Why are there so many species? Form, function, and biodiversity in Papuan microhylid frogs

Why are some groups of animals inordinately speciose? The microhylid frogs of New Guinea and its satellite islands are a prime example, comprising over 300 species containing about half the worldʻs microhylid frog diversity on a tiny fraction of the earthʻs surface. What causes this explosion of biodiversity? These closely-related frogs have long been hypothesized by field collectors to be part of an adaptive radiation with specializations for burrowing, terrestrial, semi-aquatic, arboreal, and scansorial lifestyles, but without functional study. We studied hypotheses of the “niche” in this group for the first time by conducting locomotor performance and evolutionary ecological analyses at 6 field sites across Papua New Guinea to explore the connection between environment (microhabitat) and correlated evolution in morphology and function using phylogenetic comparative analysis.
The Papuan region is also one of the most geologically dynamic regions of the world, lying at the junction of three tectonic plates. Movements of these plates have caused the earthʻs crust to slide, uplift, and move resulting in the “mainland” of New Guinea to grow over time, as well as cause dramatic changes in the satellite islands to come into closer proximity, “pass by” one another, or rise de novo via uplift. Recently our lab produced the most highly-resolved, geographically-sampled phylogeny for this taxonomically problematic group and use it to test hypotheses of drivers of biodiversity, whether it is driven by movements of land to bring frog communities together, biogeographic separation prompting speciation, adaptation to “niches”, or some combination of ecological opportunity, migration, speciation, and evolutionary adaptation.
We gratefully acknowledge financial support from NSF DEB 1145733.


30 June 2021 (Wednesday)

Host: Oliver Bossdorf

Prof. Camille Parmesan (Theoretical and Experimental Ecology Station in Moulis, Sète).

Note that this lecture (formerly scheduled on 23 June) has been postponed for one week.

This talk will be given online via Zoom.

Potentials and limitations of evolution in shaping the impacts of climate change on wild species

As climate change continues to accelerate, there is an emerging literature on population-level ecological and evolutionary responses that complement the large numbers of studies documenting species' range shifts. Localized responses can take the form of changes in dispersal behavior, voltinism, dietary specialization, camouflage, phenology or microhabitat choice. While studies of underlying processes often reveal variation based on plasticity, rapid changes can also be the results of rapid local evolution. These local changes are expected to differ qualitatively between expanding range limits and range interiors. Better understanding of the interplay between events at range limits and in range centers, and the extent to which plastic vs evolutionary processes prevail are important for conservation planning in the face of continued climate change. We highlight the highly climate-sensitive group of butterflies in the Euphydryas (North America) and Mellitae (Europe) groups to illustrate the complexity of possible population-level responses to climate change.

28 July 2021 (Wednesday)

Host: Korinna Allhoff

Prof. Fernanda Valdovinos (Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis).

This talk will be given online via Zoom.

How ecological networks respond to environmental changes?

Plant-animal mutualistic networks sustain terrestrial biodiversity and human food-security. Environmental changes threaten these networks underscoring the urgency for developing predictive theories on the networks ’responses to perturbations.
This talk will present research conducted by my group and collaborators that seeks to understand the dynamics of ecological networks to inform predictions on their responses to environmental changes. In particular, I will present theoretical work predicting: i) foraging preferences of pollinators measured in the field, ii) invasion success and impacts on natives, and iii) interaction rewiring as response to a severe drought.
I will end my talk by briefly presenting examples of our work using ecological networks to study the response of food webs to fisheries.

WS 2020/2021

Date Speaker and Abstract

13 Nov 2020 (Friday)

Host: Claudio Tennie


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

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.

WS 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.