The University of Southampton

BIOL6087 Topics in Evolution: from the Galapagos to the 21st Century

Module Overview

Evolution is a changing model of how we understand life. The Darwin-Wallace model, its integration with Mendellian genetics and its formalisation in the Modern Synthesis built a stable backbone for evolutionary biology over the last 150 years. Today, however, the field is expanding scientifically and conceptually in many new ways. The integration of evolutionary thinking with developmental biology has been one of the biggest extentions in the last decades and more recently there is growing awareness that evolutionary and ecological timescales cannot be treated separately as they have been. Meanwhile, new understanding of epigenetic inheritance, niche construction and phenotypic plasticity challenge conventional frameworks and assumptions – motivating interest in an ‘Extended Evolutionary Synthesis’. The EES is a novel way of looking at evolutionary phenomena, which, rather than replacing the Modern Synthesis, seeks to enhance and energise evolutionary thinking. It focuses on four converging themes, Developmental bias, Developmental plasticity, Inclusive inheritance and Niche Construction (see for more details). In this module we will introduce the relevant topics from pre-Darwinian ideas right up to current thinking and outstanding research questions. We will explore the ways that evolutionary biology interfaces with 21st Century Science.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• extend the knowledge of evolutionary processes taught in undergraduate modules with reference to how ideas have developed how these ideas continue to develop as new concepts emerge • consider various aspects of the process of evolution in a wide range of scenarios including the Modern Synthesis and Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. • increase understanding of the effect of mechanisms such as epigenetics, development, plasticity, etc., on evolutionary dynamics • develop ideas in the chosen area of research

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand how central concepts in evolutionary biology have changed and need updating e.g. -the concept of species, and how this differs across the tree of life -Individuality and how it evolves -the separation of evolutionary biology from developmental biology and ecology -how inheritance works
  • Appreciate the extent of overlap between evolution and other aspects of biology (development, ecology, ocean and earth) and disciplines outside of biology (maths, computer science, geography, philosophy, engineering)
  • Discuss the relationship between the Modern Synthesis and the Extended Synthesis
  • Explain how species evolve depending on the nature of their interactions under MS and EES
  • Construct a proposal for research in evolution and your chosen field


What is a species? Before one can talk about how species evolve, and come to be, we will look at the concept of what a species is, from the different perspectives of different organisms (bacteria, plants and animals). After this, an exploration of evolutionary thought from pre-Darwinian thought; the mechanism of Natural Selection, as described by Darwin and Wallace; Mendelian Genetics and the Modern Synthesis to the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. Does evolutionary biology need updating? Neil J. Gostling (NJG) Philosophy of Biology I Elselijn Kingma Philosophy of Biology II Elselijn Kingma What is a species?: (NJG) and others Lamarck then and now: Prof John Humphries The origin of Species: NJG Mendel to The Modern Synthesis: NJG Evolution and Development Mark A. Chapman (MAC) Constructive Development Richard A. Watson (RAW) Reciprocal Causation RAW Phenotypic Plasticity TBA/RAW Inclusive Inheritance TBA/RAW Niche Construction TBA/RAW Maternal Effects Rebecca B Hoyle (RBH) Evolution and evolutionary ecology Tom HG Ezard (THGE) Antimcrobial Resistance Prof Bill Keevil Evolution and Engineering Markus O. Heller (MOH) Evolution and Palaeobiology Mary E. Edwards (MEE) Evolution of human populations Sonia Zakrzewski (SZ) Evolutionary medicine I (epigenetics) Jane Cleal/Rohan Lewis/Mark Hanson/Karen Lillycrop Evolutionary medicine II (disease?) Evolutionary medicine III (pregnancy?) Social Evolution/EGT Fitness Landscapes, epistasis Big Data Phenotype-first evolution

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The principal method of teaching will be via 20 lectures. Students will write an article in the style of New Scientist, write an essay on one from two topics, and offer criticism on an essay on the other topic, and prepare a podcast. The students will be directed to considerable background reading. Students will also complete their research proposal. Each piece of course work will be equally weighted (5x20%)

Independent Study130
Total study time150



MethodPercentage contribution
Article 20%
Critique 20%
Essay 20%
Podcast 20%
Research proposal 20%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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