Dept. of Biological Sciences
Texas Tech University
Lubbock, TX 79409
Phone: (806) 742-2710 ext. 274 (Lab: ext 275)
My interests reach throughout evolutionary biology and my work has made contact a wide range of topics, including developmental modeling, morphological evolution in both invertebrates and vertebrates, population and quantitative genetics, macroevolution, and the philosophical and conceptual basis of evolutionary theory. My theoretical work currently focuses on two broad areas: 1) developing a rigorous theoretical framework for the study of developmental evolution, and 2) the mathematical and conceptual foundations of evolutionary theory.
This work is united not by a focus on any particular system or method (though I keep coming back to some) but by a guiding philosophy concerning how theories in biology should be constructed. This philosophy emphasizes the importance of choosing the right abstractions and understanding their biological meaning. The "theory" is not the equations per se, but rather the way that we assign causal biological interpretations to the abstract terms that the equations are built out of. In this view, doing theoretical biology goes hand in hand with a development of a deep understanding of the biology of the organisms under study. This philosophy also favors analytical models over computer simulations, since the very structure of an analytical model gives insights into biology.
Empirical research by myself and my students focuses on systems that allow us to address important conceptual issues. Recent and current empirical projects in my lab include: the role of heterochrony in human brain evolution, patterns of evolution in the vertebrate skull, morphological evolution in snails and ammonites, and the mechanics of speciation in rotifers.
More discussion of some recent and ongoing projects is given below.
An axiomatic theory of evolution :
The basic goal of this project is to start with a small set of basic biological premises (termed 'scientific axioms') and derive from these the exact mathematical rules underlying all evolutionary processes, both deterministic and stochastic.
Modeling evolution with epistasis :
I am developing a mathematical framework with which to model
of a phenotypic character through modifications of the
processes that construct that character. I am using this to
the evolution of canalization, integration of characters,
in development that are not manifest in adult phenotype.
Some previous projects
: I have proposed a restricted definition of heterochrony
us to specify exactly what sorts of morphological
transformations are, or
are not, heterochrony, and what this means biologically.
Using this concept,
and a statistical test based on it, I have been
investigating the role
of heterochrony in primate brain evolution.
Developmental modeling of Moluscan shells
: Using a model based on the processes by which mollusc
shells are built,
we are studying how development influences patterns of
evolution in gastropods and the evolution of irregular
forms among ammonites.
selection: Selection can act
at many levels of organization simultaneously. My work
focusses on how
this influences evolutionary dynamics as well as on
in evolutionary theory.
Roughly half of the book focuses on gene-based models, the other half being concerned with general phenotype-based theory. Throughout, emphasis is placed on the fundamental relationships between the different branches of theory, illustrating how all of these branches are united by a few basic, universal, principles.
The only mathematical background assumed is basic calculus. More advanced mathematical methods are explained, with the help of an extensive appendix, when they are needed.
Here is a list of typographical errors that I have found in the book. Please let me know if you find any others.
My graduate students devise their own research projects. I take the title "advisor" seriously; I interact extensively in identifying a subject and shaping a practical research program, but dissertation projects undertaken by my students are not offshoots of my own research.
Multivariate evolutionary theory.
Genome evolution and complexity.
Evolution of cooperation
Evolution of the mechanisms underlying reproductive isolation in rotifers.
Heinrich Zu Dohna (joint with Forestry)
Currently Assistant Professor at Duke University.
My principal courses are:
Page last updated on Jan 14, 2020