The Hilgendorf Lecture



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.


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.


Detailed information for hosts

Detailed information for speakers


Lectures take place on Wednesdays, 17:15 - 19:00, in lecture hall S320, Hölderlinstraße 12, Tübingen (Geosciences).


Forthcoming talks (SoSe 2018)

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


  • Philipp Mitteröcker (Department of Theoretical Biology, Univ. Vienna Austria), "Why is human childbirth so difficult? Obstetrics and the evolution of labor"


  • Wolfgang Forstmeier (Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen Germany), "How research on mate choice in zebra finches reveals weaknesses in our scientific method"
  • Virpii Lummaa (Human Life History Group, Univ. of Turku Finland), "Natural selection in contemporary human populations"
  • Mikael Fortelius (Geosciences and Geography, University of Helsinki), "Environments and mammal communities in the East African Plio-Pleistocene"
  • Ille Gebeshuber (University of Vienna, Austria), "What is a physicist doing in the jungle? Biomimetics of the rainforest"
  • Robin Dennell (University of Exeter, UK), "Homo sapiens outside Africa: the history of an invasive species"
  • Fernando Maestre (Dryland Ecology and Global Change Lab, Univ. of Madrid, Spain), "Biotic controls of ecosystem functioning in global drylands under global change"
  • Alexandra Klein, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, "Managing biodiversity to promote pollination services - how to increase biodiversity and why it is important for wild and managed ecosystems"


  • Redouan Bshary, Université de Neuchatel, Switzerland, "Marine cleaning mutualism: game theory meets mechanisms"
  • Mietje Germonpre, Roy. Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, "The early beginnings of the Upper Palaeolithic domestication of the dog"
  • Markus Bastir, National History Museum Madrid, Spain, "Evolution, form and function of the human respiratory system"
  • Christoph Randler, Tübingen University, "Chronotype, individual differences and the biological basis of morning/evening-orientation – Is  there a link with evolutionary aspects in humans?"
  •  Wil Roebroeks Leiden University, Netherlands, "The peopling of Pleistocene Europe - with or without fire?"


  • Bob Wong, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, "Behavioural Responses to a changing world: evolutionary and ecological consequences"
  •  John R. Pannell, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, "Evolution and implications of gender strategies in plants"
  • Stephen Frost, Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, US: "Monkey Business: global climatic change and its relationship to primate and human evolutions"
  • Bruce MacFadden, Biology, Geological Sciences, and Latin American Studies, University of Florida, USA: "Fossil horses: Icons of evolution and exhibits"
  • Ariel Novoplansky, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel: "Ecological implications of plant communication"
  • Anne Christine Utne Palm, Institute of Marine Research, Norway: "A breath taking little fish - exploiting extreme environments and redressing the balance in an overfished ecosystem"


  • Prof. Christina Warinner, Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma, USA: "Reconstructing our ancient microbial self"
  • Prof. Sönke Johnsen, Biology department, Duke University, USA: "Hide and seek in the open sea"
  • Prof. Jonathan Silvertown, Evolutionary Ecology, University of Edinburgh, Scotland: "The Crowd and the Cloud: Re-inventing Natural History for the 21st Century"
  • Prof. Anne Magurran, Centre for Biological Diversity, University of St Andrews, Scottland: "Biological Diversity in a Changing World"
  • Prof. Nicole M. van Dam, German Centre for Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig: "Herbivore-induced responses in roots and shoots: What comes up, must go down?"
  • Prof. Peter Gärdenfors, Cognitive Sciences, University of Lund, Sweden: "How Homo became docens: On the evolution of teaching"
  • Prof. Charlotta Kvarnemo, Biology & Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Sweden: "Pregnant pipefish males: Care & brood reduction"
  • Anna-Liisa Lain,  Metapopulation Research Group, Helsinki: "Uncovering Determinants of Disease Dynamics in a wild Host-Pathogen Metapopulation"


  • Keith Hobson, Canadian Wildlife Service, Saskatoon, Canada: "Tracking animal migration using stable isotopes."
  • Kenneth B. Storey, Molecular Physiology Department, Ottawa, Canada: "The living Dead: Metabolic Arrest and the Control of Biological Time"
  • Jan Benda, Neuroethology, University of Tübingen:"Electrosensory fish in their environment -from Neuroscience to Ecology"
  • Rosemary Gillespie, Univ California Berkeley, United States: "Community Assembly through Adaptive Radiation: Spiders on Islands"
  • Aubrey de Grey, SENS Research Foundation,Mountain View, California, United States:Mitochondrial DNA: evolutionary insights into future therapies for aging
  • Detlef Weigel, MPI Dev Biol Tübingen: Origins and consequences of genetic and epigenetic variation in Arabidopsis thaliana


  • Tracey Chapman, Univ East Anglia: Sexual conflict and competition: molecules, mechanisms and evolutionary change
  • Jacob Weiner, Univ Copenhagen: Evolutionary Agroecology - applying evolutionary theory to plant production
  • Walter Federle, Univ Cambridge: Slippery surfaces and skillful climbers: biomechanics and ecology of insect-plant interactions
  • Nicole Dubilier, MPI Marine Microbiol, Bremen: From deep sea hydrothermal vents to coral reef sediments: the remarkable diversity of symbioses between chemosynthetic bacteria and marine invertebrates
  • Paul Brakefield, Univ Cambridge: From a model species to exploring adaptive radiations in butterflies
  • Andrei Lupas, MPI Dev Biol Tübingen: The origin of folded proteins
  • Bill Rice, Univ Calif Santa Barbara: A new form of intragenomic conflict between sex chromosomes
  • Jens Krause, Leibniz-Inst. Freshwater Ecol & Inland Fisheries Berlin: Collective Behaviour and Swarm Intelligence
  • Helmut Segner, Univ Bern: Why has ecotoxicology left no mark in ecology? A personal view


  • David Lordkipanidze, Georgian National Museum: The hominins of Dmanisi and the earliest peopling of Eurasia
  • Michael Herdy, INPRO Berlin: Optimization of industrial processes using principles of evolution
  • Hans-Dieter Sues, Natl Mus Nat Hist, Washington: The end-Triassic Mass Extinction in Continental Ecosystems
  • Janis Antonovics, Univ Virginia: Linnaeus, Darwin and the Germ Theory of Disease
  • Paul Koch, Univ Santa Cruz: The Rise and Fall of Elephant Seal Breeding Colonies on Antarctica: Insights from Fossil Record
  • Francesco d'Errico, Univ Bordeaux: When and how did humans became behaviourally modern?


  • Madelaine Böhme, Univ Tübingen: The late middle Miocene vertebrate fauna of Gratkorn - an exceptional fossil locality
  • Jeff Ollerton, Univ Northampton: The biodiversity of plant-pollinator interactions: an overview of research 1990-210
  • Katharina Foerster, Univ Tübingen: Understanding evolution: The power of long-term field data
  • Dieter Ebert, Univ Basel: Antagonistic coevolution
  • Eörs Szathmary, Collegium Budapest: The origin of the genetic code
  • Ran Nathan, Univ Jerusalem: An emerging movement ecology paradigm
  • Thomas Cavalier-Smith, Univ Oxford: The eukaryote tree: deep phylogeny and the evolution of protist body plans
  • Duncan Irschick, Univ Massachusetts Amherst: The evolution of animal performance: from microevolution to macroevolution


  • Bill Hansson, MPI Chemical Ecology Jena: Olfactory Evolution
  • Tad Kawecki, Univ Lausanne: Evolutionary biology of learning: insights from Drosophila
  • Mike Benton, Univ Bristol: New Methods of Studying Dinosaurian Radiation and Success
  • Russel Gray, Univ Auckland: The Pleasures and Perils of Darwinising Culture
  • Nicholas Conard, Univ Tübingen: A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwest Germany
  • Joan Roughgarden, Univ Stanford: Reproductive Social Behavior: Old and New Evolutionary Theories
  • Franjo Weissing, Univ Groningen: The Evolution of animal personality
  • Volker Loeschcke, Univ Arhus: Thermal adaptation and environmental stress: from selection experiments to gene expression studies and field releases


  • Hans Breeuwer, Univ Amsterdam: Evolutionary consequences of reproductive parasites in spider mites
  • Laurent Keller, Univ Lausanne: Behaviour, the role of interactions between genes and social environment