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Durham University

Research & business

Research lectures, seminars and events

The events listed in this area are research seminars, workshops and lectures hosted by Durham University departments and research institutes. If you are not a member of the University, but  wish to enquire about attending one of the events please contact the organiser or host department.


The measurement of macroevolutionary causes

29th October 2020, 13:00, Via Zoom, Dr Josef Uyeda, Virginia Tech, USA

Host: Dr Jonathan Drury

About the speaker: Josef Uyeda is an Assistant Professor in Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech. Josef's research stands at the cutting edge of comparative biology, not only due to the role he has played in developing advances in phylogenetic comparative methods, but also because of his contribution toward the development of conceptual links between macro-scale patterns and micro-scale processes. For more information, visit Josef's website.

The measurement of macroevolutionary causes

Phylogenetic comparative methods enable the study of patterns across the tree of life, and the statistical toolkit available to researchers interested in asking macroevolutionary questions has grown immensely over the past few decades. However, even as these methods have become more statistically sophisticated, fundamental challenges to interpretation of the results of these approaches persist - leading to sometimes acrimonious debates. In this talk, I will argue that the missing piece of the puzzle is carefully considering cause and effect. Of course, the vast majority of macroevolutionary data is observational, and since experimentation is largely impossible, proving causation from observed correlations is impossible. Nevertheless, I will argue that this accepted statistical truth has also resulted in the unfortunate side effect of widespread failure to consider the nature of causation in our methods and interpretations; despite such considerations being essential to good inference. I will examine a series of case studies in my own work where carefully considering cause and effect fundamentally has changed my approach to asking macroevolutionary questions, and has lead to greater clarity on how statistical comparative methods can be profitably used to understand evolutionary processes.

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