BOT 305: Evolutionary Biology

Stories – mostly science
Evolution Lab (PBS)
The Drunkard’s Walk (Genetic Drift: Andrew Hendry)
Evolution education
Understanding Evolution
Brush up your maths
Myths and Misconceptions

This was a page for an optional paper offered in the third semester for students of the M.Sc. final year in Botany at the University of Delhi (2010-2018). It was a highly compressed, essentially introductory course (as, in our infinite wisdom, we do not offer a paper in evolutionary biology for undergraduates in Botany). [Since 2020, a version of it is offered as a required core paper in the second semester.]

After a couple of introductory classes where we discussed morphological variation, both infraspecific (including ecotypes) and interspecific, as well as molecular variation, we moved on to talk about what adaptation is and is not.

We got into some elementary population genetics — genetic drift, population structure, inbreeding, mutation and migration; modes and models of selection, frequency dependent selection, then “hummed through” topics such as frequency dependent selection, sexual selection, kin selection, life-history evolution and levels of selection. We briefly peeked into quantitative genetics and discuss molecular evolution over a couple of sessions.

Then it was time for speciation, a phenomenally important process that allows the passage from micro- to macroevolution.

After a brief review of phylogenetic trees, reading and telling trees, we went into some basics of doing phylogenetic analysis, and then tried to understand phylogenetic biology–or, at least, as it works in the origin of evolution of land plants.

Laboratory sessions included the analysis of morphological and molecular variation; a simulation board game to understand selection; a couple of sessions on PopG to understand the behaviour of genes in populations across several generations; back to phenotypes to study morphological variation among a group of taxa (usually genera of Solanaceae), to construct a morphological data matrix and conduct phylogenetic analysis using maximum parsimony; then to molecular data from the same taxa to estimate phylogenies using neighbor-joining and maximum likelihood methods. We did an exercise on comparative methods and spent one session studying seed plant fossils.

Students did an independent project during the first 6 weeks or so, when they studied “their” assigned plant and presented their findings in a poster session. M.Phil. and Ph.D. students of the Department of Botany judged these posters and teachers would come through to talk to students about their work.

Some highlights 

Dr. Mark Olson, UNAM, Mexico, gave a lecture on structures and adaptations that essentially set the stage for the rest of the semester.

Dr Sudipto Chatterjee, TERI University, came to the annual poster session put up by students of the course.

Drs. Julieta Rosell and Mark Olson of UNAM, Mexico, taught an intensive course for masters and Ph.D. students. The course, “The fate of carbon in forests: a functional traits approach,” involved gathering empirical data (North Delhi Ridge), a crash (micro) course in R followed by analysis of the data and discussion. The Department of Botany sponsored this course.


Dr. Michael Donoghue (Yale University) gave a lecture “Biome shifting, leaf form, and phenology: insights from Viburnum phylogeny” on Sep 25; it was part of the course material this year.

2 Responses to BOT 305: Evolutionary Biology

  1. Tingneilhai Chongloi says:

    This page is very helpful as it provides multiple links. I just hand a glance through “Understanding Evolution” and wished I had gone through it sooner as it has almost everything that is there to really understanding evolution. Explanations are concise, simple and easy to get. It would be a great help for students if all these were taught from graduation level itself.

  2. rgeeta says:

    Thank you. As you can see, the link you mention is prominently displayed now.

    And yes, evolution should be taught at the B.Sc. level. Tell your teachers in college!

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