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Evolution: students debate the debate

Nature volume 515, page 343 (20 November 2014) | Download Citation

I asked my third- and fourth-year undergraduate students whether they thought that evolutionary theory needs rethinking (see Nature 514, 161–164; 2014). More than two-thirds (26 out of 38) argued that it did not — because the synthesis proposed by Kevin Laland et al. has largely already occurred.

Far from being neglected as Laland and colleagues imply, topics such as developmental bias, plasticity, niche construction and extra-genetic inheritance are well established in basic courses on evolutionary theory. Students today recognize that these processes can be both outcomes and causes of evolution. There is also a large body of work on co-evolutionary dynamics and interacting phenotypes (see, for example, any of the 400 or so papers that cite J. B. Wolf et al. Trends Ecol. Evol. 13, 64–69; 1998).

Although all of my students agreed that the phenomena discussed by Laland and colleagues warrant further study, they — like the authors of the counterpoint piece, Gregory Wray et al. — did not view the authors' ideas as an “alternative vision of evolution”. There would therefore seem to be no “struggle for the very soul of the discipline”.

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  1. University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, USA.

    • Hope Klug


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Correspondence to Hope Klug.

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