University of Idaho is a natural selection for Evolution 2009

Thursday, May 28 2009

May 28, 2009

Written by Ken Kingery

MOSCOW, Idaho – More than 1,100 of the world’s best and brightest minds in evolutionary biology are headed to Moscow, Idaho. The University of Idaho will host the 2009 Evolution Conference beginning Friday, June 12, and running through Tuesday, June 16.

The event features more than 600 presentations and 200 posters on current and previously unreleased research, eight sponsored symposia synthesizing entire research fields, three speeches from the presidents of the sponsoring societies and one keynote speaker.

The conference is the annual joint meeting of the three major societies in evolutionary biology: the Society for the Study of Evolution, the Society of Systematic Biologists and the American Society of Naturalists.

“Just about everyone who is anyone in evolutionary biology will be here,” said Olle Pellmyr, professor of biology at the University of Idaho and program chair of the event. “There’s a lot going on. Any information people in the discipline want, ranging from the undergraduate level to senior emeritus faculty, they can find.”

Most of the presentations are restricted to those registered for the conference. However, there will be one event open to the public: the keynote speaker that kicks off the event Friday night from 8-9:30 p.m. in the ASUI-Kibbie Activity Center. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, will accept the initial Stephen Jay Gould Award for promoting public understanding of evolutionary biology. She will speak about how scientists can learn from and improve on past mistakes in educating the general public about evolutionary science.

The conference will continue Saturday through Tuesday with a large number of research presentations. Eight different tracks of continuous 15-minute presentations will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Locations will be centrally located to the university's Teaching and Learning Center and the Kibbie Dome.

The paper and poster presentations are non-competitive, meaning anyone who wants to present their research is able to do so. These talks are often the first chance for young post-doctoral students to show off their research. This results in a vast array of research in many different fields. Much of the information has not been published yet, and won’t be for several months.

“The contributed papers is where you hear all the new empirical results – the latest pure data straight from the lab,” said Pellmyr. “Sometimes the researchers even have just finished the analysis on the way to the meeting.”

Running concurrently with the presentations will be a series of eight symposia. These symposia focus on a specific field and bring in the leader in that area to provide a synthesis.

Unlike the paper presentations, the symposia are competitive and the scientists are handpicked by a selection committee. Those selected are often recent recipients of the Young Investigator Award, which is typically given to three or four of the best researchers who recently finished their doctoral degrees.

“These symposia are the ones that really draw the large crowds,” said Pellmyr.

Each day is capped by a speech from one of the society’s presidents as well as a reception for those in attendance. Poster sessions will be featured on Sunday and Monday night. Additionally, a K-12 workshop for teachers to learn the ins and outs of teaching evolution will be sponsored by the Society for the Study of Evolution on Friday, June 12, at the Connor Museum in Pullman, Wash.

For more information about the events, visit

Among the many presentations will be several by faculty and students at the University of Idaho. Some interesting topics include:
• "The challenges of modeling the evolutionary tree" by Jennifer Ripplinger and Jason Evans, doctoral candidates in bioinformatics and computational biology;
• "How predictable is evolution?" by Erica Bree Rosenblum, professor of biological sciences, which will discuss how different species of lizards have used the same gene to evolve camouflage in New Mexico but function differently at the cellular level; and
• "What triggers a species to evolve and multiply, and what effect does that have on an ecosystem?" by Luke Harmon, professor of biological sciences.
# # #

About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit

Media Contact: Ken Kingery, University Communications, (208) 885-9156,  

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit