Macroevolution –defined as an observation– is uncontroversial: speciation, branching of higher taxa, and trends happen all the way by and large through the evolutionary history of life on our planet. They still happen today, although extremely difficult to observe due to the discrepancy in time-scale between evolution and our life, but this is actually true also of microevolutionary processes that normally take at least several generations to become apparent. Big novelties such as structures or bodily organizations emerge. We also have major transitions such as the origin of eukaryotes and multicellularity. Beyond observation, when the explanation of macroevolution is at issue, different positions are on the table: we have discussions and famous polemics and “macroevolution campaigns” in the history of evolutionary biology that still go on today. Is macroevolution seamlessly explained by the same mechanisms, models, processes, laws as microevolution, i.e. variation, heritable fitness, selection, drift – seen mainly at the genetic level? Or is macroevolution not only pattern, but also process (cf. Stanley 1979); that is to say, are there genuinely macroevolutionary processes that explain the patterns better than microevolutionary processes do? Is macroevolution something in need of explanation, or is it an explanation itself? Some of the classical weapons in support for a genuine macroevolutionary explanation – such as the individuality thesis about species, or the process of species selection – have been seriously questioned. At least, this appears from the current status of evolutionary literature. The explanatory role of macroevolution has been pushed by a group of evolutionary biologists since the 1970s, in a movement tied to the birth of palaeobiology. Such story, with the positions that emerged therein, is the important scenario against which macroevolution is received and dealt with today. But, below the public surface made largely of charming in-principle positions, there has been an intense development of reflections, methodologies, and case studies by specialists of plants, animals, microorganisms, and cultural artifacts as well. An important implication of the “macroevolution wars” was that the strategy of extrapolation from known mechanisms can blind evolutionists instead of helping them to see patterns. Stasis and bursts of innovations, for example, are compatible with microevolution, but weren’t predicted by it. On the other hand, the problem of seeing and measuring is a problem of interdependence between the mechanisms we know and the patterns we are enabled to see. Evolutionary biology is full of these epistemological loops. How are researchers co-tuning their data on the one hand, with their models and theories on the other? Are there processes and mechanisms that specifically are macroevolution in the current explanatory apparatus actually built-and-used by researchers? Why are these necessary? And, most importantly, what’s the evidence that they really operate out there? This book is about current methodologies in evolutionary biology. It brings together leading theoreticians and empirical researchers, specialists of different periods and taxonomic groups, neontologists and paleobiologists. It is about methodology, evidence, measurement, and explanation, and gives a fresh look to macroevolution towards the future. Where is (macro)evolutionary biology heading to?
Alawi, Y; Becks, L; Bokma, F; Casetta, E; Eldredge, N; Futuyma, D; Gontier, N; Marques da Silva, JML; Minelli, A; Salthe, S; Serrelli, E; Stigall, A; Tëmkin, I; Wood, B
Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):
Serrelli E, Gontier N, eds. (forthcoming). Macroevolution: Explanation, Interpretation, Evidence. Springer. [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/49988]