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The Theory of Evolution

Principles, Concepts, and Assumptions

Edited by: Samuel M. Scheiner and David P. Mindell
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.

Author Information

Samuel M. Scheiner is a theoretical biologist with work in various areas of evolution, ecology, and general biology. He is coeditor, most recently, of The Theory of Ecology, also published by the University of Chicago Press. David P. Mindell is an evolutionary biologist and visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. He is the author of The Evolving World: Evolution in Everyday Life.


“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"

“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"


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