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On Evolution

John C. Avise

Publication Year: 2007

John Avise is one of the most distinguished evolutionary biologists of our time. His groundbreaking work with mitochondrial DNA created the entire discipline of phylogeography and his work on the Pleistocene refugia hypothesis redirected scientific thinking about patterns of distribution. Spanning a remarkable thirty-five-year career, the essays gathered here were rewritten from his previously published articles and represent the first single-volume collection of Avise's work. Moving through various questions in evolutionary biology, these eclectic essays reveal Avise's unique perspectives on major topics in the field. From how to define a species to the folly of faulty applications of cladistics to connections between conservation and evolutionary biology, On Evolution takes the reader on a personal journey into the mind of one of the world's leading evolutionists.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. v

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Publisher’s Note

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pp. vii

Long a friend, and longer a fan, of John Avise, I approached him in 2005 to see whether he would be willing to revise some of his most interesting writings to create a book “on evolution.” His clear, accessible writing style and his impeccable credentials—distinguished professor, member of the National Academy of Sciences, founder of phylogeography ...

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pp. ix-x

When my editor approached me about transforming some of my former writings into this volume, I agreed, but with trepidation. Evolution is a huge topic, and I worried that creating a readable book using revisions of merely a small handful of my works would not do the field justice. Indeed it cannot. But a short book that deals broadly ...

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1. Genetic Differentiation during Speciation

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pp. 1-8

Biological evolution consists of two processes: anagenesis (or phyletic evolution) and cladogenesis (i.e., splitting). Anagenetic change is gradual and usually results from increasing adaptation to the environment. A favorable mutation or other genetic change arising in a single individual may spread to all descendants by natural selection. ...

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2. Molecular Variability and Hypothesis Testing: An Ode to Electrophoresis

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pp. 9-20

Scientific knowledge accumulates through critical tests of hypotheses against observations gathered with the intent of falsifying those hypotheses. The base of an inductive tree consists of objectively gathered observations on which alternative explanatory hypotheses may be erected and tested. The stimulus for major advances in a scientific ...

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3. The Pocket Gopher

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pp. 21-28

In the night time, it throws out the earth, forming little mounds, or hillocks.” With these words, written in 1971, the great American naturalist William Bartram introduced us to a common rodent whose existence is closely interwoven with the soil it inhabits. The rodent is Geomys pinetis, the southeastern pocket gopher. The word Geomys is ...

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4. Gene Trees and Organismal Histories

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pp. 29-44

I will argue four main points in this chapter. First, that population genetics and population biology profit from the infusion of phylogenetic principles and reasoning. Second, that a powerful approach involves explicit focus on the phylogenetic histories of particular genes and gene products. Third, that an analysis of one gene system studied ...

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5. Nature’s Family Archives

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pp. 45-50

Family names were first used in China during the Han Dynasty (about the time of Christ), but the widespread practice of assigning hereditary surnames to family lines came relatively recently to most parts of the world. In England, surnames were not customary until at least the fourteenth century, and in Japan, only the governing ...

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6. Molecular Clones within Organismal Clones

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pp. 51-64

Some vertebrate “species” exist predominantly or exclusively as females, exhibiting asexual or semisexual reproduction. Examples occur among the fishes, amphibians, and squamate reptiles. Essentially all known unisexual vertebrates carry the nuclear genomes of two or more bisexual species, and thus arose via interspecific hybridization. ...

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7. Aging, Sexual Reproduction, and DNA Repair

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pp. 65-82

Three seminal books on the evolutionary biology of aging and sexual reproduction appeared within a few years of one another: The Evolution of Sex (1998) edited by Richard Michod and Bruce Levin, Aging, Sex, and DNA Repair (1991) by Carol and Harris Bernstein, and Evolutionary Biology of Aging (1991) by Michael Rose. In this joint review ...

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8. The Real Message from Biosphere 2

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pp. 83-86

On a September morning in 1993, eight gaunt but triumphant Biospherians emerged through the airlock doors of Biosphere 2 after two years under public scrutiny and sealed glass. Their re-entry into Biosphere 1 (Earth) marked completion of the first in a century-long series of planned missions, the stated objectives of which are to explore ...

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9. Conservation Genetics and Sea Turtles

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pp. 87-94

If not for the fact that about 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans, the long-term prospects might be even dimmer for the biosphere’s eventual recovery from global environmental crises precipitated by human overexploitation. The oceans have resisted permanent human settlement, and their vast size and composition provide ...

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10. The History and Purview of Phylogeography

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pp. 95-102

Phylogeography as a formal discipline was christened in 1987. How ever, the field’s gestation and birth occurred in the mid-1970s with the introduction of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analyses to population genetics, and to the profound shift toward genealogical thought at the intraspecific level (now formalized as coalescent theory ...

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11. Cladists in Wonderland

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pp. 103-116

In the year 2000 I attended a conservation genetics symposium at which one of the speakers claimed to have caught a speciation event in the act. Earlier in this century, tiger beetles (Cicindela dorsalis) were distributed more or less continuously along the eastern coast of the United States, but shoreline development extirpated populations in ...

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12. Evolving Genomic Metaphors: A New Look at the Language of DNA

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pp. 117-122

Metaphors in science are like foghorns and lighthouses: They usually reside in treacherous areas, yet they can also guide research mariners to novel ports. With the recent flood of DNA sequences from the human gene pool and those of other eukaryotic species, the exploratory ship of biology is suddenly up to its gunnels in molecular ...

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13. Genetic Mating Systems and Reproductive Natural Histories of Fishes

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pp. 123-142

Fish have remarkably diverse reproductive behaviors. A rich natural- history literature documents mating systems ranging from pelagic group spawning to cooperative breeding to social monogamy. Sub - sequent to spawning, adult care of fertilized eggs and larvae may be nonexistent, confined to one gender, biparental, or communal. When ...

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14. An American Naturalist’s Impressions on Australian Biodiversity

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pp. 143-170

In 2001, a symposium entitled “Biodiversity Conservation in Fresh waters” was held in Canberra, Australia. The speakers addressed root causes for the imperiled state of freshwater biodiversity in Australia, and the resulting management challenges. Australian wetlands and watersheds, already scarce, have come under assault in recent ...

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15. The Best and the Worst of Times for Evolutionary Biology

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pp. 149-170

They also encapsulate the feelings of many natural historians about the state of evolutionary biology today. The recent elucidation of the sequence of all three-billion-plus nucleotide pairs in the human genome is an example of how this is the best of times for evolutionary biology. This achievement, which will stand forever as a milestone in ...

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16. Models, Metaphors, and Machines

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pp. 171-174

Silly Putty without the word silly was just mundane putty until 1949, when an unemployed ad man named Peter Hodgson added bright colors to the substance and packaged it in plastic eggs. Silly Putty became one of the most successful novelty toys of the twentieth century, grossing hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and ...

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17. Evolution’s Unanswered Questions

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pp. 175-178

We have come far in recent centuries and decades toward understanding how life evolves. Yet many outstanding questions remain, and undoubtedly countless more are not yet even imagined. Every evolutionary biologist must have a list of favorite scientific questions, and here are four of mine ...

Source Articles

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pp. 179-180


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pp. 181-186

E-ISBN-13: 9780801896033
E-ISBN-10: 0801896037
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886898
Print-ISBN-10: 0801886899

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2007