EEB events: Thursday seminar: Rackham Centennial Alumni Lecture: The evolution of beauty: Dr. Richard Prum, Yale University
Richard Prum, William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University
Ph.D. Biological Sciences 1989
Richard Prum is an evolutionary ornithologist who draws from a wide spectrum of disciplines, including developmental biology, optical physics, molecular genetics, phylogenetics, paleontology, and behavior ecology, to address central questions about bird development, evolution, and behavior. Through careful study of the morphology and molecular control of feather development, Prum deduced a five-step sequence of genetic adaptations that plausibly accounts for the evolution of contemporary feather structure and ties bird origins closely to a group of dinosaurs known as therapods. Subsequent discoveries in the fossil record have supported his theory. He has also devoted much attention to the mechanisms of color production in feathers. Collaborating with applied mathematicians, Prum demonstrated that the blue coloration in feathers is due to coherent light scatter (rather than pigmentation). Prum also employs his expertise in avian anatomy to examine the relationship between vocal apparatus morphology and bird song behavior. Through careful fieldwork, he has gathered promising evidence that phylogenetic relationships among bird species can be inferred or substantiated by comparative behavioral studies. Whatever the phenomenon under study, Prum habitually synthesizes concepts from disparate fields and follows surprising paths to reach carefully reasoned conclusions.
Most contemporary research on sexual selection treats mating preferences as evolving by natural selection for honest information about quality or condition, or for sensory efficiency. However, Darwin's own view was explicitly aesthetic. I advocate a return to Darwin's aesthetic view of sexual selection by mate choice, in which the arbitrary sexual selection mechanism of Lande and Kirkpatrick is the null model. If mate preferences are not always under natural selection, it is necessary to recognize the role of emergent agency of mate choice in evolutionary process. Thus, mate choice gives rise to sexual autonomy. Because of the indirect costs of sexual coercion, sexual autonomy will evolve to assert and expand its own control over fertilization in the face of sexual conflict. Sexual autonomy is enhanced through either evolved mechanisms of resistance or novel aesthetic preferences that have secondary limiations on sexual coercion. These issues in sexual selection and aesthetic evolution will be discussed with examples for birds and humans.
Host: Diarmaid Ó Foighil
A Rackham Centennial Alumni Lecture
The U-M Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies is organizing the Rackham Centennial Alumni Lectures as part of its 100th anniversary celebration in 2012 to showcase the intellectual legacy of the university’s graduate community.
Photo credit: Male Banded Cotinga (Cotinga maculata) from southeast Brazil by Ciro Albano
Location: 1210 Chemistry