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The Theory of Evolution

Principles, Concepts, and Assumptions

Darwin’s nineteenth-century writings laid the foundations for modern studies of evolution, and theoretical developments in the mid-twentieth century fostered the Modern Synthesis. Since that time, a great deal of new biological knowledge has been generated, including details of the genetic code, lateral gene transfer, and developmental constraints. Our improved understanding of these and many other phenomena have been working their way into evolutionary theory, changing it and improving its correspondence with evolution in nature. And while the study of evolution is thriving both as a basic science to understand the world and in its applications in agriculture, medicine, and public health, the broad scope of evolution—operating across genes, whole organisms, clades, and ecosystems—presents a significant challenge for researchers seeking to integrate abundant new data and content into a general theory of evolution.

This book gives us that framework and synthesis for the twenty-first century. The Theory of Evolution presents a series of chapters by experts seeking this integration by addressing the current state of affairs across numerous fields within evolutionary biology, ranging from biogeography to multilevel selection, speciation, and macroevolutionary theory. By presenting current syntheses of evolution’s theoretical foundations and their growth in light of new datasets and analyses, this collection will enhance future research and understanding.

464 pages | 14 halftones, 4 line drawings, 16 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Biological Sciences: Evolutionary Biology


"The volume will help scientists and philosophers of science appreciate both the architecture of the present theory and how that architecture might evolve."

R. M. Denome | Choice

"This is an excellent volume of essays that pro-vides a comprehensive glimpse of the current state of understanding of the conceptual aspects of the theory of evolution."

The Quarterly Review of Biology

“A hallmark of a maturing discipline of science is its conscious articulation of theory—the conceptual, often mathematical, framework within which research questions are formulated and solved. This splendid volume lays out key elements of the theory of evolutionary biology, which arguably is the theory that ultimately ties together all the biological sciences. The chapters, with their copious pointers to the literature, guide the reader through a wide range of historical, philosophical, methodological, and conceptual issues, ranging from thorny topics such as homology, the species concept, and discerning process from pattern, to deft syntheses of many subthemes in evolutionary biology, including models of natural selection, phenotypic plasticity, sex and recombination, evolutionary biogeography, and hierarchical models of evolution across multiple scales. All biologists would profit from a careful reading of this well-crafted volume, and students in particular would benefit from grappling with its clear exposition of many core issues in evolutionary biology.”

Robert D. Holt, University of Florida, coeditor of "Metacommunities: Spatial Dynamics and Ecological Communities"

“Theory is of increasing interest among biologists and importance in the field of biology. This multiauthored book explores the nature of theory in evolutionary biology as a whole as well as in subdisciplines. No such book exists presently. A major theme is the pressing need to better integrate philosophical inquiry into evolutionary biology. There are several subthemes with that. One of these is the inference of process from pattern—a vital activity in science, but one wherein one can easily be led astray.”

Norman A. Johnson, University of Massachusetts Amherst, author of "Darwinian Detectives: Revealing the Natural History of Genes and Genomes"

Table of Contents

List of Contributors

Chapter 1: The Theory of Evolution
David P. Mindell and Samuel M. Scheiner

Part 1: Overarching Issues

Chapter 2: Historicizing the Synthesis: Critical Insights and Pivotal Moments in the Long History of Evolutionary Theory
Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis
Chaper 3: Philosophy of Evolutionary Theory: Risky Inferences of Process from Pattern
Patrick Forber
Chapter 4: Modeling Evolutionary Theories
Patrick C. Phillips
Chapter 5: Traits and Homology
James O. McInerney
Chapter 6: The Nature of Species in Evolution
Marco J. Nathan and Joel Cracraft
Chapter 7: The Tree of Life and the Episodic Evolutionary Synthesis
Maureen Kearney
Chapter 8: Situating Evolutionary Developmental Biology in Evolutionary Theory
Alan C. Love

Part 2: Constitutive Theories

Chapter 9: The Inductive Theory of Natural Selection
Steven A. Frank and Gordon A. Fox
Chapter 10: The Theory of Multilevel Selection
Charles Goodnight
Chapter 11: The Demography of Fitness: Life Histories and Their Evolution
Gordon A. Fox and Samuel M. Scheiner
Chapter 12: The Theory of Ecological Specialization
Timothée Poisot
Chapter 13: The Theory of the Evolution of Phenotypic Plasticity
Samuel M. Scheiner
Chapter 14: The Evolution of Sex
Maria E. Orive
Chapter 15: Speciation
Scott V. Edwards, Robin Hopkins, and James Mallet
Chapter 16: The Theory of Evolutionary Biogeography
Rosemary G. Gillespie, Jun Y. Lim, and Andrew J. Rominger
Chapter 17: Macroevolutionary Theory
David Jablonski

List of References

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