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 (SoSe 2019)

Date Speaker and Abstract

08 May 2019

Host: Rita Triebskorn

Prof. Dr. Thomas Bosch (Kiel Marine Sciences, Germany)

On the origin and function of metaorganisms

It has been known from the inception of microbiology as a discipline in the 19th century that animals, including humans, bear many microorganisms. Until recently, however, these microorganisms were generally treated as either pathogens or as insignificant: the absence of microbes was equated with health. This classical understanding of microbes has been called into question with the recent emergence of low-cost, high-throughput gene sequencing techniques that have enabled the study of microbial communities without cultivation. Today we know that individuals are not solitary, homogenous entities but consist of complex communities of many species that likely evolved during a billion years of coexistence. Metaorganisms (hosts and their microbes) are multipartite entities that result from ecological, evolutionary and genetic processes. Interactions with the microbiome are near universal in extant animals and more ancient than the evolutionary origin of animals.
I propose that the health of animals, including humans, is fundamental
multi-organismal; and that any disturbance within the complex community of host and microbial cells has drastic consequences for the wellbeing of the individual member of this association. This newfound awareness of the dependency of phenotypes on other species and environmental conditions presents additional layers of complexity for the life sciences including medicine and evolutionary theory; and raises many questions that are currently being addressed by new research programs.

15 May 2019
Host: Annett Junginger

Prof. Dr. Michal Kucera (marum Research Faculty, Bremen)

Origin of marine zooplankton and the nature of major ecological transition

The present state of the biosphere is the result of a series of major ecological transitions, resulting in successive expansion of life into new habitats and leading to an increasing complexity of existing ecosystems. Each transition was contingent on the emergence of specific adaptations and it is an exciting field of inquiry to consider how and why they evolved. Conversely, each transition created new habitats and affected the cycling of elements and nutrients on Earth, facilitating and/or necessitating life to adapt. One of such transition is the origin of (modern) zooplankton, requiring animals to abandon life on substrate and lift-off into the water column. This presentation will analyse the sequence of adaptations required for such transition in one group of zooplankton and discuss the consequences for the understanding of the triggers and the predictability of the ecological consequences of major ecological transitions at large.

10 July 2019

Host: Hervé Bocherens

Prof. Dr. Todd Ehlers (Geology and Geodynamics, Tübingen)

The Influence of Vegetation Change on the Earth’s Surface

The Earth’s surface is modulated by fascinating interactions between climate, tectonics, and biota. These interactions are manifested over diverse temporal and spatial scales ranging from seconds to millions of years, and microns to thousands of kilometers, respectively. Investigations into Earth surface shaping by biota have gained growing attention over the last decades and are a research frontier. Examples of the scales of biotic interactions with surface processes range from microbial and fungal consumption of mineral surfaces over short temporal and small spatial scales, to vegetation interactions with climate, sedimentation and erosion over time scales of hours (individual storms) to millennia (global climate change), and spatial scales of centi-  to kilometers (encompassing individual plants to catchment scale biomes). In this lecture, I present an integration of new observational and numerical modeling research on the influence of vegetation cover on Earth surface processes over the last ~20k years. Results from coupled dynamic vegetation, paleoclimate, and landscape evolution models will be shown that illustrate the importance of vegetation for the form and evolution of the Earth’s surface. These results will be compared to observations of topographic development from different techniques.


17 July 2019

Host: Oliver Bossdorf

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Schmid (Evol. Biology and Environmental Studies, Univ. Zürich, CH)

Plant biodiversity research: from ecology to evolution

Biology is very much the science of variation and diversity. In ecology, researchers originally focused on explanations of the causes of diversity, for example why it differed between geographic regions. With the increased awareness of a modern extinction crisis, interest shifted to potential consequences of diversity. I will present this development using examples where biodiversity has been experimentally manipulated and the consequential changes in ecosystem functioning have been measured. While these experiments have generally revealed a positive relationship between diversity and functioning, the mechanisms potentially underpinning this general result have been much more difficult to identify, probably because there are many different ones that can be at work. However, a further interesting question that can be asked is to what extent biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning are coincidental or shaped by (co-)evolutionary processes. Using the Jena Experiment where plots of different plant species richness have been set up in 2002 as a selection experiment, we could indeed find that species interactions became more complementary and facilitative over time. This opens up the possibility to breed for increased mixture yield in agriculture, but it still leaves the question open whether “deliberate” diversity strategies occur in nature.

  Preview Winter Semester 2019/2020

06 Dec 2019 (Friday)

Host: Katharina Foerster

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

Title t.b.a.

Abstract t.b.a


Previous talks