Evolutionary Theory, Biosystematics and Biogeography

Lecturers: Sabine Agatha, Peter Comes, Anja Hörger, and Andreas TribschFunktional

This course covers different aspects of evolutionary biology and introduces important theories and concepts of evolutionary biology, biosystematics, and biogeography.

In the biosystematics part, we teach the basics of taxonomy, i.e., the main rules for naming organisms and describing species. You apply this knowledge by describing a fantasy species for a “scientific journal”, considering its morphologic, genetic, and ecological data and the respective analysis methods.

We further introduce you to population genetic theory, an important theoretical framework, which allows inferring evolutionary processes from DNA sequence data. We discuss, for example, the neutral theory of evolution, models of DNA-evolution and coalescent theory. You will also learn how to simulate evolutionary processes and detect selection in real sequence datasets.

Also, you will have the opportunity to write an essay on an evolutionary topic of your choice. Possibilities include issues related to the concept of natural selection (e.g. fitness, function, adaptation, units of selection), or attempts to apply evolutionary theory to problems that are also of relevance to philosophy and the social sciences (e.g. ethics, sociobiology, altruism, cultural evolution).






Evolution „in action“. A) Novel species “Torrorochum torrorochum” described for the first time in our module by A. Schwaiger, S. Bruckner, P. J.K. Feichtlbauer and E. Schlager. B) Example of a coalescent tree describing the genealogical relationships of a population sample. C) Second-level clustering of Swarm OTUs from Chinese and European coastal surface waters assigned to Spirotontonia oligotrichids (Ganser et al. (2021) Front. Mar. Sci. 8:643822).



The biogeographical view on evolution has brought crucial insight for our understanding of biodiversity. We introduce the main historical persons involved in developing important theoretical concepts in biogeography. A seminar part reflects biogeographical theory and discusses how important biogeography as a science is not only for our understanding on life on earth but also for us as human society.



A biogeographical pattern: Patterns of species diversity and endemism of vascular plants in the Alps inside and outside Ice Age refugia = small black house symbol. Species richness is higher in central parts of the Alps while endemism is higher in refugia.