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The Evolution of Beauty

September 11, 2017

7:15 pm - 9:15 pm

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Natural World–and Us

with Richard Prum.

A great deal of our attraction to birds has to do with the lengths to which they go to reproduce. The bewildering range of colors, bizarre extravagances of mating behavior, and bird song itself, all have to do with a mode of natural selection called sexual selection which has been a prime factor in driving the evolution of many bird species. Bold colors, flight-impeding plumes and attention-seeking songs all may create hazards for birds, and attest to the fact that the need to reproduce may outweigh other selection pressures in determining how birds look, sound, and behave.

Based upon his recent book of the same name, Richard Prum will look at how “a taste for beauty” has guided the development of the extraordinary ornamentation we see in the natural world.

Dr. Prum received an A.B. (1982) from Harvard University and a Ph.D. (1989) from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University, where he also serves as curator of ornithology and head curator of vertebrate zoology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Prum has been involved in some truly groundbreaking discoveries in ornithology, especially relating to the evolution of feathers. Collaborating with scientists from many disciplines, he is responsible for some of the most respected theories on how feathers evolved, and for the discovery that blue coloration in birds is due to structural, not chemical properties of their feathers. Exploring beyond his expertise in feathers, Dr. Prum has also worked on ways in which bird behavior sheds light on their evolutionary relationships, and the ways in which variation in vocal apparatus between different groups of birds gives rise to different singing behavior.


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