Project Details

Demography, Causal Structure, Evolutionary Dynamics, and Novelties

Wesley Herb Anderson, 2016 - 2017, Fellow Postdoctoral

The goal of the project is two-fold. First, I aim to provide the conceptual resources necessary for thinking about novelties that arise from niche construction and phenotypic plasticity. The Modern Synthesis provides no such framework. In particular, insofar as novelties are understood as a subset of adaptations where the trait was non-homologous in the lineage before fixation, then no conceptual sense can be made of novelties arising from niche construction or phenotypic plasiticty. This is because the traditional account of adaptation assumes the trait evolved in a common environment, which is unlikely in either the case of niche construction or phenotypic plasiticity.

Second, I aim to develop the formalization necessary for analyzing the evolutionary dynamics of systems undergoing niche construction and phenotypic plasticity (i) when demographic conditions are being constructed by traits or causing traits to develop and (ii) when both offspring dispersal and frequency-dependent selection are local only. We currently have no agreed upon machinery for doing so. Moreover most work on niche construction and phenotypic plasticity assume that offspring dispersal is always global. Of primary interest in this work is whether the causal direction between traits and demographic conditions will change the evolutionary dynamics in interesting ways, and whether global or local dispersal and frequency-dependent selection favor the evolution of different kinds of novelties—thus revealing demographic features of mechanisms of innovation.

In short, the project is in line with theoretical work on The Extended Synthesis at the intersection of philosophy of evolutionary biology and mathematical evolutionary biology.