Friday, June 19, 2009

My Evolution 2009 Highlights Saturday

Well, time to write this up before it gets too stale. First, what I missed: I heard about the talk on snakes that are specialized snail predators, but not until the next day. It has been covered elsewhere (e.g., Denim and Tweed) , so enough said.

I spent Saturday morning jumping around - caught David Wilson's opening talk and part of Peter Richerson's talk on gene culture evolution in the EvoS symposium. As someone doing a thesis project on social learning and culture in the 1990's the Boyd and Richerson book was required reading, so I wanted to hear what Richerson had to say. Sadly, he seemed to still equate culture with information passed by social learning, a view that the mainstream passed by a while ago. Social learning is an important component of culture, but is certainly not sufficient, either for chimpanzees or scrub-jays to be considered cultural creatures. Speaking of scrub-jays, I left the Richerson talk to catch the Aphelocoma divergence and speciation talk by John McCormack, a post-doc in Lacey Knowles lab. The only talk I remember from the later Phylogenetic methods section was the SATe talk, maybe because Jiaye Yu, in the Holder lab, has spent some time recently with it, even though he wasn't involved in this particular talk.

Saturday afternoon I spent in the Diversification symposium. Since I have been involved with BiSSE, I figured I should catch up a bit on the field. Of course, the Rich Fitz-John talk at the end (not listed in the program) was the most relevant. Rich has developed an implementation of BiSSE in his R package Diversitree, which besides the likelihood approach that we implemented in Mesquite, also includes an MCMC estimator, as well as his forward simulation method for dealing with missing tree structure (in press in Syst. Biol.) Rich also has a BiSSE-like method for continuous traits from which he showed some preliminary results in his talk. Very cool stuff.

All the talks in the Diversification symposium were good, and seeing the range of approaches was useful for me. I knew something of Dan Rabosky and Mike Alfaro were up to, since I had met them at the NESCent R-hackathon in December 2007. I am gradually getting more comfortable with R, I just keep telling myself that behind all those arrays and vectors, there's a Scheme dialect, but it hasn't gelled just yet.

I talked with Rich FitzJohn after the session, mostly about optimization issues and his continuous method.