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Evolutionary Patterns and Processes

Research in our department spans the micro- to macroevolution continuum and includes the evolution of genes and genomes; the developmental basis of evolutionary change; the interplay between ecology, behavior and evolution; and the origin, maintenance, and classification of diversity. Faculty in many other departments collaborate in a Cornell-wide program in evolutionary biology that is characterized by exceptional depth, breadth and balance.

Evolutionary genetics and comparative genomics are now central to understanding evolutionary change. These approaches focus on the ways in which evolutionary processes shape patterns of genetic variation within and between species, the roles of natural and sexual selection in evolutionary change, and the genetic architecture of speciation and adaptation. New approaches in genomics and proteomics allow detailed analysis of how novel structures and functions arise, reveal past population histories and can help explain the current distributions of plants and animals. EEB faculty use these cutting-edge tools to study many complex systems and topics, including fertilization biology, immune function, organ development, sexual selection, behavior, patterns of diversification, and species interactions.

Many labs in EEB construct and/or use evolutionary trees to address questions about both evolutionary and ecological change. We use evolutionary trees as a framework to study sexual selection, adaptation, behavioral evolution, the origin of novel traits, the evolution of form and function, and rates of diversification within and between clades. Evolutionary trees also provide important structure for revealing the implications of environmental change for biodiversity, including causes and consequences of anthropogenic or natural extinction, determinants of range limits, the interaction between disease and global climate change, and the impacts of disease on genetic and phenotypic diversity.