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Evolution’s in the air at Darwin Day UGA 2013 - The Red and Black : Ugalife

Evolution’s in the air at Darwin Day UGA 2013

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Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 8:00 am | Updated: 1:50 pm, Thu Sep 5, 2013.

There’s an important holiday on the horizon — a time for ecologists and geologists to come together to share their mutual admiration. Not for chocolate, or for flowers or singing greeting cards. This week — Tuesday — is Charles Darwin’s birthday.

“Even if you don’t consider yourself an evolutionary biologist, evolutionary theory really still largely influences everything we do in biology and how we can understand biology,” said Mark Farmer, a professor and division chair of biological sciences and organizer of Darwin Day at UGA.

UGA hosts its fourth annual Darwin Day at UGA event from Feb. 11 until Feb. 14, celebrating the impact Darwin’s work had on the scientific community through a series of lectures around campus.

“One of the goals that I had initially was that Darwin Day would not just be scientists speaking with other scientists, but speaking to a more general audience,” Farmer said.

All events are free and open to the public, he said.

Farmer said he got the idea from the International Darwin Day Foundation and brought the event to UGA in 2009 in time for the 150-year anniversary of the publication of “Origin of Species” and the 200-year anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

In the past there have been guests such as Ray Troll — an artist who incorporates aspects of biology and evolution into his art — and Jack Horner, author of “How to Build a Dinosaur.” This year, the theme revolves around work still being done in the Galapagos Islands.

“It’s all about trying to strike the perfect balance,” said Marielle Abalo, a first-year geography master’s student.

Abalo is studying how sea lions determine where they want to live and raise their young in the Galapagos. She said many local fishermen think they’re actively competing with sea lions for fish as a limited resource. Her work could help both the local population and outside conservation efforts prioritize areas for preservation.

She will participate in a lecture Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the Ecology auditorium titled “The Galapagos Islands, Then and Now.”

“It’s not really about trying to force Darwin’s teachings or discoveries in front of people,” Abalo said. “It’s more about really learning about the world and exposing people to the scientific process that we use and just to make them see that it’s relevant to what we do from day to day, that’s how I see it.”

Richard Shefferson, an assistant professor of ecology, organized the event’s first poster session — which features examples of evolutionary research going on around campus — this year. Displays go up Monday, he said, and there will be a reception Thursday at 5:30 p.m. with pizza and soft drinks that can count toward a freshman’s seminar requirements in the First Year Odyssey program.

“What I wanted to do was showcase all the evolutionary research that’s going on at UGA, but to do it in such a way that undergraduates, particularly freshmen, might be exposed to it,” Shefferson said.

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