Why do we study evolution and ecology together in this course?
In 1973, evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote a now-famous essay titled Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. In this essay, Dobzhansky argued that evolution is the underlying unifying theme for all of biological study and that understanding life on earth necessarily requires considering evolutionary processes and impacts. The title of this essay became a famous quote highlighting the foundational importance of evolution to all biological concepts and processes and is often repeated by evolutionary biologists.
In 2008, Drs. Peter and Rosemary Grant wrote a scientific text on their decades-long work studying the Galápagos finches titled How and Why Species Multiply: The Radiation of Darwin’s Finches. In this book, they discussed Dobhansky’s famous quote and argued for a slight adjustment. The Grant’s argued that “nothing in evolutionary biology makes sense except in the light of ecology.”
The following year, Dr. Fanie Pelletier and her colleagues published a paper on the links between evolutionary and ecological processes and also argued for an adjustment to Dobhansky’s quote. These authors stated that “nothing in evolution or ecology makes sense except in the light of the other.”
These three quotes illustrate why evolution and ecology are grouped together in this course. As you will see throughout the quarter, ecological interactions frequently drive evolutionary change. For example, predation drives the development of defenses in prey such as camouflage, armor, or toxins. As you will also see, natural selection relies on interactions between a population and other organisms or the environment and so is an ecological interaction as well as an evolutionary process. In these ways, and others, ecological interactions and evolutionary trajectories are inextricably linked and therefore important to study together.