Open access next week

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Just Royal Society publications, unfortunately, but now's your chance to get three papers I published with Toby Kiers over the years:

Sanctions and mutualism stability: why do rhizobia fix nitrogen? (2002)

Human selection and the relaxation of legume defences against ineffective rhizobia (2007)

Inclusive fitness in agriculture (2014)

...or some of those other Royal Society papers you've been craving.

Carnival of Evolution...

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...hosted this month at EcoEvolutionary Dynamics.

That's the title of a review article just published online by Science.
The US National Science Foundation, which is funding some of the authors and previously funded my research on evolution of symbiotic cooperation, is highlighting the article on their website.

Past and ongoing evolution have important implications for health, agriculture, and conservation of biodiversity, but communication among scientists applying evolutionary biology to different practical problems has been limited. That started to change in 2010, when a bunch of us (including most authors of today's paper) met on Heron Island, Australia, at the Applied Evolution Summit. Scott Carroll (UC Davis and Institute for Contemporary Evolution) had a lead role in both the meeting and the review article.

Evolutionary changes occur over generations, so crop pests and disease-causing pathogens with short generation times can evolve quickly, undermining our control measures. Species with longer generation times, including humans and some endangered species, evolve too slowly to keep pace with changes in their environments. For example, food preferences that evolved when meat and sugar were scarce may lead to unhealthy diet choices today.

Our paper discusses various ways to slow harmful evolution. Refuges not exposed to selection (e.g., by insecticides or fishing with nets) may slow evolution of insecticide-resistant pests or evolution of smaller fish. This approach partly depends on insect pests or fish from the refuges mating with individuals from outside. Refuges might be less effective for populations that reproduce asexually, such as bacteria or cancer cells.

To protect valued species that are evolving too slowly, we may be able to modify the environment to better match their inherited traits. Taxing unhealthy food might help, assuming we're sure which foods are unhealthy. For wild species, moving them to environments to which they're better adapted may work. Obsession with native species may blind us to the fact that their native range is now warmer than it was when they evolved. Unless we can reverse climate change, saving those species may require moving them (or allowing them to migrate) further from the equator or to a higher elevation.

Despite the authors' shared interests in evolution and in practical problems, applying insights from one field to another can be difficult. But I hope that this review will be helpful, both to practitioners and to students of evolution that have not yet narrowed their career options.

Narah Larson's evolution games

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Narah Larson is a senior at the University of Minnesota, majoring in biochemistry. She is doing research in my lab on a project she designed to understand the evolution of mutualistic relationship between plants and bacteria, specifically alfalfa and their nitrogen-fixing, root-nodule symbionts, rhizobia. Her goal is to become a middle school or high school teacher, to spark curiosity for the sciences in young students, and to challenge herself to find as many ways as possible to explain complicated biological concepts. She spent last summer writing from scratch and teaching a curriculum that dealt mainly with genetics and evolution for a 6-week course for rising 7th graders.

I (Ford) thought some of the evolution-themed exercises she developed looked very educational and fun -- tying shoelaces together to simulate hobbling of bacteria by antibiotics, for example -- so I am making them available here, with her permission.




...links to current research and some interesting history at Ecologia

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