Douglass Distinguished Lecture

Sharon Strauss, PhD

Do relatives make good neighbors? And other thoughts on biodiversity

Thursday, August 1, 2024

Crested Butte Center for the Arts, King Room

7:00 – 8:00 pm

I am awed by biodiversity. What processes allow many species to live together in the same locality? How are collections of diverse species assembled and how do they function? The characteristics of species and how they interact with one another are shaped by both historical factors of past evolution as well as by contemporary interactions among species. There is a tension created by recent shared evolutionary history: shared ancestry should make species more similar and thus, these species should prefer the same habitats, food, etc. Yet, such shared preferences between species might also create conflict in their use of resources or habitat. In my talk, I will dissect underlying mechanisms for a fundamental hypothesis that Darwin put forth on how the evolutionary relationship between species should affect the likelihood of their coexistence in local communities. I use both experimental and observational approaches to explore this hypothesis. I then develop some novel mechanisms to explain the incidence of coexistence in closely related species. Ultimately, I strive for an understanding of how diverse communities of many species persist and function.

Sharon Strauss is an evolutionary ecologist and is Distinguished Professor Emerita of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University before enrolling in the University of Minnesota and Florida State University for her MSc. and Ph.D. Sharon has spent her career focusing on understanding natural ecological communities through combining contemporary experiments with an understanding of both recent and deep evolutionary history. Strauss has received a number of awards, including The American Society of Naturalists Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Conceptual Unification of the Biological Sciences, as well as being elected Senior Fellow of the Ecological Society of America; she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences.