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Definitely directed evolution (1890-1926): the importance of variation in major evolutionary works by Theodor Eimer, Edward Drinker Cope, and Leo Berg

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This dissertation shows that the central conceptual feature and explanatory motivation of theories of evolutionary directionality between 1890 and 1926 was as follows: morphological variation in the developing organism limits

This dissertation shows that the central conceptual feature and explanatory motivation of theories of evolutionary directionality between 1890 and 1926 was as follows: morphological variation in the developing organism limits the possible outcomes of evolution in definite directions. Put broadly, these theories maintained a conceptual connection between development and evolution as inextricably associated phenomena. This project develops three case studies. The first addresses the Swiss-German zoologist Theodor Eimer's book Organic Evolution (1890), which sought to undermine the work of noted evolutionist August Weismann. Second, the American paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope's Primary Factors (1896) developed a sophisticated system of inheritance that included the material of heredity and the energy needed to induce and modify ontogenetic phenomena. Third, the Russian biogeographer Leo Berg's Nomogenesis (1926) argued that the biological world is deeply structured in a way that prevents changes to morphology taking place in more than one or a few directions. These authors based their ideas on extensive empirical evidence of long-term evolutionary trajectories. They also sought to synthesize knowledge from a wide range of studies and proposed causes of evolution and development within a unified causal framework based on laws of evolution. While being mindful of the variation between these three theories, this project advances "Definitely Directed Evolution" as a term to designate these shared features. The conceptual coherence and reception of these theories shows that Definitely Directed Evolution from 1890 to 1926 is an important piece in reconstructing the wider history of theories of evolutionary directionality.

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  • 2014

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Three perspectives on multilevel selection: an experimental, historical, and synthetic analysis of group-level selection

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During the 1960s, the long-standing idea that traits or behaviors could be

explained by natural selection acting on traits that persisted "for the good of the group" prompted a series of

During the 1960s, the long-standing idea that traits or behaviors could be

explained by natural selection acting on traits that persisted "for the good of the group" prompted a series of debates about group-level selection and the effectiveness with which natural selection could act at or across multiple levels of biological organization. For some this topic remains contentious, while others consider the debate settled, even while disagreeing about when and how resolution occurred, raising the question: "Why have these debates continued?"

Here I explore the biology, history, and philosophy of the possibility of natural selection operating at levels of biological organization other than the organism by focusing on debates about group-level selection that have occurred since the 1960s. In particular, I use experimental, historical, and synthetic methods to review how the debates have changed, and whether different uses of the same words and concepts can lead to different interpretations of the same experimental data.

I begin with the results of a group-selection experiment I conducted using the parasitoid wasp Nasonia, and discuss how the interpretation depends on how one conceives of and defines a "group." Then I review the history of the group selection controversy and argue that this history is best interpreted as multiple, interrelated debates rather than a single continuous debate. Furthermore, I show how the aspects of these debates that have changed the most are related to theoretical content and empirical data, while disputes related to methods remain largely unchanged. Synthesizing this material, I distinguish four different "approaches" to the study of multilevel selection based on the questions and methods used by researchers, and I use the results of the Nasonia experiment to discuss how each approach can lead to different interpretations of the same experimental data. I argue that this realization can help to explain why debates about group and multilevel selection have persisted for nearly sixty years. Finally, the conclusions of this dissertation apply beyond evolutionary biology by providing an illustration of how key concepts can change over time, and how failing to appreciate this fact can lead to ongoing controversy within a scientific field.

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  • 2014