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Evolutionary Traps and Releases.

Dr. Paul W. Sherman
Department of Neurobiology and Behavior
Cornell University

Organisms often rely on environmental cues to make behavioral and life-history decisions. Normally these decisions are adaptive because they rely on cues that correlated with a high probability of survival and reproduction in the evolutionary past. A rapid anthropogenic change to the environment, however, can potentially result in an 'evolutionary trap', where formerly adaptive Darwinian algorithms now lead to fitness-decreasing outcomes. This can occur because Darwinian algorithms are only as complex as necessary to yield adaptive responses under normal circumstances, but not so complex as to cover all experimentally- or anthropogenically-induced contingencies.  Dr. Sherman's seminar will introduce and illustrate the ubiquity of the evolutionary trap concept, using wood ducks, ground squirrels, and various invasive species as examples.  By integrating an organism's evolutionary history, population genetics, and Darwinian algorithms, the evolutionary trap concept provides a novel link between behavioral and conservation biology, and can serve as a useful framework for predicting and ameliorating certain impacts of rapid environmental changes.