Darwin Day: The Fitness Landscape: How Evolution Shapes Population Dynamics (Grand Rapids)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Women's City Club, 254 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids, MI, View Map

Presented by Bjørn Østman, PhD, Evolutionary Biologist, Michigan State University


Join us for a lecture and Q&A! Bjørn Østman will be speaking about the importance of the fitness landscape in evolutionary biology.

A fitness landscape is a function where fitness (reproductive success) is given by the phenotype or genotype of an organism. It is arguably the most important function on evolutionary theory because it determines how a population will evolve. Evolutionary dynamics—the study of the principles according to which life has evolved and continues to evolve—is governed by population size, mutation rate, and the fitness landscape. How a population responds to environmental change, for example bacteria facing antibiotics, plants facing novel diseases, or polar bears facing climate change, depends largely on these three parameters. Measuring and visualizing natural and theoretical fitness landscapes has therefore become a hot topic particularly in the last two decades.

In this talk, Bjørn will outline current theories of fitness landscapes as they are applied in research. The factors that determine genetic architecture, chiefly epistasis (gene interactions) and pleiotropy (one gene affecting multiple traits), will be discussed, as will the effects of dynamic fitness landscapes that change over time and how this can cause speciation through frequency-dependent selection. The problem of crossing valleys in the fitness landscape and how this can promote novel events in evolution and create new species will be discussed in the context of different types or fitness landscapes. Lastly, Bjørn will describe the advances that has been made to measure fitness for many genotypes/phenotypes in order to elucidate the structure of biological fitness landscapes.

About the Speaker

Bjørn Østman is from Copenhagen, Denmark. He has an M.S. in Physics and Astronomy from University of Copenhagen. Bjørn was a web developer in New York City from 1999 to 2002 before earning an M.A. in Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology from University of California, Santa Barbara 2005. He went on to receive a Ph.D. in Computational and Systems Biology from Keck Graduate Institute and Claremont Graduate University in 2010 and is currently pursuing post-doctoral studies at Michigan State University.

Bjørn’s work includes: computational evolution, theoretical evolution, evolutionary dynamics, population genetics, evolutionary metagenomics, bioinformatics, microbial evolution, speciation, adaptation, genetic architecture, and fitness landscape structure.

Additional Details

Meetings are open to the Public

After the meeting, join us at Vitale's Restaurant, 834 Leonard NE, Grand Rapids, MI to socialize. View Map

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Contact: Jennifer Beahan, , 616-698-2342