Evolutionary Ecology Group

  • IS Technical Support Specialist
  • Department of Biology
  • Biology
101 Thomas Hunt Morgan
(859) 257-4973
Evolutionary ecology emerged as a subfield of ecology in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with the work of Robert MacArthur, E.O. Wilson, Bill Hamilton, John Maynard Smith, and George Price, among others. The title of G.E. Hutchinson’s 1965 book The Ecological Theater and the Evolutionary Play aptly expressed the linkage requiring exploration in the decades ahead. The vibrant field of behavioral ecology, which emerged at the same time and incorporated much of the previously separate discipline of animal behavior, is now generally considered a subset of evolutionary ecology. The field has advanced productively along two main avenues: one addressing responses to selection, drift and mutation by means of quantitative and population genetics, and the other taking a functional approach to develop and test optimization and game-theoretic models and understand the ecology of selection. Both approaches have their strengths and skilled practitioners, and they have been shown to agree consistently (with occasional intriguing exceptions). Evolutionary ecology is now poised to link empirical work with theory of responses to environmental change across levels of biological organization. The EETG was developed to train students to do original research in one or more of these areas. 
The Training Program
How students will pick mentors: Students will be paired with mentors during the recruiting process. This insures substantial interest and commitment by both student and faculty member. In some cases, there may be joint advising of a student (which has been relatively common and successful in the EETG), either determined during recruiting or after arrival.
Lab rotations: The EETG has not established lab rotations. However, students from other groups may in special cases rotate through labs of faculty members in EETG.
Curriculum requirements or recommendations: The EETG faculty oversees and generally contributes to a set of topical courses offered on a regular basis, usually every fourth semester. With the usual instructor indicated, these courses include BIO 580/621 Ecological Genetics (Linnen), BIO/ENT/FOR 606 Conceptual Models in Ecology and Evolution (Crowley), BIO 607 Advanced Evolution (Weisrock), BIO 608 Behavioral Ecology (Westneat), BIO 609 Community and Ecosystem Ecology (Gleeson, and BIO 621 Biometry (Sargent). The EETG also offers at least one section of BIO 770 Graduate Seminar every semester. The seminar is a central venue for the type of training in EETG, fostering scientific interaction on a range of sub-topics within the field. Students will ordinarily take any of the topical courses needed to build a solid foundation for their career focus, but none of these courses is absolutely required. All students will be expected to take courses as needed to gain skills and confidence with molecular, statistical, and modeling methodology. Statistics is especially important, so EETG students will ordinarily take at least two courses in statistics. Specialty courses in biology and other disciplines will also be taken as needed. With the establishment of the graduate committee toward the end of the first year or at the beginning of the second year in the program, the committee will also advise on coursework
Add-on activities (seminars, workshops, side projects, etc): Add-on activities have been noted above as Value Added. These include the weekly informal Ecolunch research presentations; the annual CEEB Symposium at EREC for EEB researchers; weekend workshops organized ad hoc on topics of special interest to the group; opportunities for collaborative side projects; and the close association of EETG with research, educational and outreach activities at EREC.
A description of the format for written and oral exams: The doctoral qualifying exam in the EETG is conducted in two phases. The first phase is the preparation and defense before the committee of a review article in publication format. The review addresses an important contemporary issue in evolutionary ecology, presenting a solid well-referenced overview of the most important (biased toward recent) work and contributing novel synthesis as new perspective or hypotheses and/or identifying priorities for future work. Much emphasis is placed on choosing a high-impact topic of appropriate breadth and addressing it with the kind of novelty and clarity that can help establish its author in a dynamic field. The review must be deemed acceptable by the committee before the student may proceed to the second phase of the qualifying exam (formally scheduled through the graduate school). In the second phase, the student prepares a dissertation proposal in the form of an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant proposal, or, if student and advisor prefer, as a proposal for the dissertation itself. On the day of the exam, the student presents a 30-minute talk on the dissertation plan that is open to the university community, followed by an oral exam administered by the advisory committee covering the DDIG or dissertation proposal and any other questions committee members choose to raise within the broad scope of biology. There are ordinarily no written questions for the student to answer as part of the exam.
Specific expectations of post-qualifying students: Following the qualifying exam, students may be required or allowed to take additional courses by the advisory committee as indicated by the outcome of the exam or by student preference. Most students that can potentially benefit from additional classes after passing the qualifying exam seek instructor permission to sit in without enrolling. Post-qual EETG students are expected to participate in an appropriate graduate seminar every semester with or without course credit.
Any special requirements for exit exam and the nature of the dissertation: The exit exam is an oral defense of the dissertation. In the EETG group, the dissertation is intended primarily to advance the student’s career by facilitating the conducting, analysis, and presentation of high-impact research potentially publishable in high-visibility refereed journals. Though some coherence of the dissertation chapters in addressing a central theme is expected, the focus is on crafting and accumulating chapters, each of which can stand as a separate significant contribution in the literature. The review prepared as part of the qualifying exam is generally updated and included as one of the dissertation chapters. The EETG also accommodates a few thesis MS students who prepare and defend a thesis ordinarily based on a two-year research project, with extensive guidance from the advisor.
Faculty Participants in Biology
Phil Crowley
Scott Gleeson
Nicholas McLetchie
Craig Sargent
Jeremy Van Cleve
Dave Westneat
Participants from other departments at UK
John Cox (Forestry)
Chuck Fox (Entomology)
James Harwood (Entomology)
Steve Price (Forestry)
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