The Hilgendorf Lecture

The lecture is named after Franz M. Hilgendorf (1834-1904), a palaeontologist from Tübingen who, in 1863, constructed the first empirical phylogenetic tree of fossil organisms using snail shells. He thus provided the first fossil proof of gradual evolution and speciation as proposed by Darwin’s theory of evolution.

In memento of this work, the Hilgendorf Lecture series promotes evolutionary thinking across disciplines. Internationally renowned scientists present their latest work or show where evolutionary thinking can inform other research areas. The lecture is open to the public and addresses undergraduate and advanced students, postdocs and members of staff from various fields.

Hilgendorf lectures


Dr. Ingmar Werneburg



for hosts

 for speakers

WHEN?   Wednesdays 1715 - 1900    

WHERE?  Geoscience lecture hall S320 • Hölderlinstraße 12 • Tübingen.

Forthcoming talks (SoSe 2018)

Date Speaker and Abstract

May 09

Korinna Allhoff,
Plant Ecology

Prof. Nicolas Loeuille (International Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences)

Interaction between species sorting and evolutionary dynamics in metacommunities: consequences for the emergence and maintenance of species diversity

Given a spatial structure of the environment, local communities may undergo species turnover as dispersal brings in new species that are more adapted to local conditions. Such a species sorting process may however be constrained by evolutionary dynamics. For instance, when a competitively inferior species has enough time to adapt to the local environment, evolution may prevent competitive exclusion (monopolization hypothesis) and prevent species sorting. In this presentation, I will focus on this interaction between ecological and evolutionary dynamics. First, I will present a simple model whose aim is to clarify when monopolization or species sorting likely dominates. Then, taking the example of climatic changes, I will show that this interaction between evolution and ecology can strongly modify the outcome in terms of species maintenance. Finally, I will introduce a model in which the spatial environmental structure is not assumed but rather emerge from niche construction processes. Evolutionary dynamics then allow the emergence of diversity and of complex environments, when dispersal is limited and evolution slower than the local environmental change.

June 13


Dr. Claudio Tennie (Ältere Urgeschichte und Quartärökologie, Tübingen)

The ancestral reconstruction of early hominin culture using recent findings from comparative cognition

Human culture requires precise transmission of various “know-how”. New data shows that cultures of the other great apes (henceforth apes) do not require precise transmission. Instead, they consists of uniform, individual reinventions – what we call “latent solutions”. While the specific mix of latent solutions that is realized in any ape population is socially mediated by common processes (e.g. apes are socially drawn to locations/stimuli that others interact with), each ape can and does reinvent the underlying behaviour anew – entirely on his or her own. And so, the specific forms and ways of tool use observed in ape populations (their “cultures”) are individual solutions: their defining features are not copied by the apes. Instead, they are “socially mediated serial reinnovations”. The resulting uniformity (and stasis) of ape behaviours merely creates a powerful illusion – namely, to the human eye, these behaviours appear to be based on (human-like) transmission of know-how, even though they are not. Current data strongly suggests that only human apes develop their skills by sharing and improving their know-how across generations. As a result, our solutions usually go beyond the individual level: and they then become supra-individual solutions (e.g., no human could invent a laptop computer without cultural access). By way of examining the reported stasis of early hominin stone tools and using cognitive cladistics, I argue that early hominin cultures could likewise have consisted of latent solutions: the forms of early stone tools might have derived at individually by their respective makers. If so, supra-individual solutions evolved much later than was previously assumed.

Jul 18

Ingmar Werneburg

Dr. Robert Asher (Univ. of Cambridge, Museum of Zoology, UK)

DNA, Fossils, and the Evolutionary Tree of Rodents

Abundant data from extant species indicate that rodents are composed of three major radiations: squirrel-related, guinea-pig-related, and mouse-related. Their closest living relatives are lagomorphs, followed by scandentians, dermopterans, and primates. The fossil record of rodents and lagomorphs is over 60 million years old and provides further data to understand how these groups evolved. Over the past century, and often based on very limited remains of jaws and teeth, paleontologists have hypothesized not only how fossils relate to living groups, but also how living groups relate to one another. Here, I attempt to quantify the extent to which the data used by these paleontologists provide insight into the evolutionary affinities of rodents and their near-relatives, using the now well-corroborated evolutionary tree for mammals. I discuss new, well-preserved and articulated skeletal fossils of a diminutive geomyoid and a "protrogomorph" from the late Eocene of North America in an attempt to reconstruct these fossils accurately in the mammalian tree, as well as infer some level of confidence in the accuracy of these reconstructions.


Previous talks