IST Austria Courses
IST Austria logo

Classics in Evolutionary Biology (F14)

Instructor: Nick Barton, Jon Bollback

(Click on one of our names to send an email.)




As a field, evolutionary biology is remarkably diverse, ranging from taxonomy to theoretical population genetics, and from paleontology through to experimental evolution. In developing the reading curricula the instructors have attempted to both follow the historical development of the field, and to highlight those works that have had an important impact on evolutionary thinking. The ultimate goal of the course is to provide students with an in depth introduction to a variety of topics in evolutionary biology, and encourage independent exploration of the literature. In addition, scientists do not simply perform experiments or derive equations but must present this information to a wider audience through seminars, conference talks, and manuscripts. Therefore, the course also focuses on providing the important experience of giving oral presentations and scientific writing.



No formal prerequisite is required. However, students will benefit more from the course, if they have a basic understanding of genetics (Mendelian inheritance and Hardy-Weinberg) and probability theory (binomial sampling, Poisson processes, etc.). For those who feel they are deficient in these areas they can "bone-up" with the following materials found here.




Course Structure

The meeting on Wednesday of every week is an introduction (by the instructors) to the topic of the week followed by the distribution of readings for the next week. The second meeting (Mondays) consists of presentations by the students of the readings (from the previous week) followed by a speaker directed discussion. We will be using the weekly recitation period as an extension of the Monday morning presentation -- i.e., one presentation in the early morning and one during the recitation period.


The requirements of the course is that each student:

  1. Attends every class prepared and ready to discuss the readings [Note: While grading is not determined by participation, you are expected to have read the papers prior to the presentations.];

  2. Prepares and submits six 500 word (approx. 1 page) referee reports for papers read during the course [Note: Reviews and Critiques are excluded. Eligible papers, in the list below, are denoted by a double asterisk, **.]; and

  3. Prepares and delivers two presentations and two overview/review papers on the material covered by the presentation (1500 words -- approx. 3-4 pages).

Your grade for the course is determined using the following grading system:

  1. 0 or 1 point for submitting, on time (see below), each of the 500 word essays (a maximum total of 6 points during the course),

  2. 0-10 points based on the quality of the 2 submitted 1500 word essays (a maximum total of 20 points during the course) -- must be submitted on time (see below),

  3. 0-12 points for each presentation based on the quality of the 2 presentations (see below) (a maximum total of 24 points during the course).

You can obtain a maximum of 50 points (6 for reviews, 20 for essays, and 24 for presentations). The total points scored is then converted to a 1-5 scale where 1=50 (Excellent) to 5=0 (Fail) by rounding to the nearest integer.



Schedule (subject to change)

Dates (First is the Lecture, second are the presentations) -- Topic

Readings to Download

Oct. 8/13 -- Evolution prior to Darwin & The Origin of Species (Darwin)

Oct. 15/20 -- Evolutionary Synthesis

Oct. 22/27 -- Shifting Balance Theory

Oct. 29/Nov. 3 -- Mutation & Genetic Variability

Nov. 5/10 -- Genetic Variation

Nov. 12/17 -- Neutral Evolution

Nov. 20/24 -- Quantitative Genetics

Nov. 26/Dec. 1 -- Evolution of Sex

Dec. 15/17 -- Kin Selection, Cooperation, & Conflict

Jan. 12/14 -- Sexual Selection

Jan. 19/21 -- Fitness Landscapes

Jan. 26/28 -- Speciation

Additional Resources

Lecture Slides and Other Materials:

PDF download of the Extended Classics Reading List 

Evolution Before Darwin & The Origin (Download Lecture 1)

Evolutionary Synthesis (Download Lecture 2

Shifting Balance Theory (Download Lecture 3)

Genetic Variation (Download Lecture 4)

Neutral Theory (Download Lecture 5 Part 1 & Part 2)

How to read and write a review:

PDF download from external link (Duke University -- Writing Studio)

Additional online resources:

Mark Ridley's take on Classic Papers (Evolution -- External link

Darwin's notebooks and reading lists (Darwin Online -- External Link) [Note: Perhaps the most interesting Notebooks, in the context of this course, are those on Transmutation. The definition of "Transmutation" is, the conversion or transformation of one species into another. Today we would call this speciation.]