Thursday, March 03, 2011

Excited to teach again

Summer Semester 2011

Introduction to Evolutionary Demography

Start: 4 July 2011
End: 9 July 2011
Location:Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR), Rostock, Germany


  • Daniel Levitis, MPIDR
  • Hal Caswell, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • David Thomson, University of Hong Kong
  • Annette Baudisch, MPIDR
  • Alexander Scheuerlein, MPIDR
  • Oskar Burger, MPIDR
  • Maren Rebke, MPIDR

Course description:

Understanding survival, reproduction and other life-history events is central to the study of both demography and evolutionary biology, and each field has developed methods and concepts to observe patterns and elucidate principles. The growing field of evolutionary demography treats demographic variables (patterns of survival, reproduction, and development) as properties of organisms that reflect evolutionary processes, just as morphology, behavior, and physiology do. It draws on both disciplines to search for evolutionary explanations of demographic patterns in terms of adaptation, genetics, phylogeny, and the environment. Further, it applies demographic methods and reasoning to answering evolutionary questions. Demography and evolutionary biology are conceptually unified and inextricably linked, so the questions we want to answer can best be tackled by traversing traditional disciplinary boundaries. This course is intended to introduce early career researchers from both fields to the concepts, methods, challenges and questions of evolutionary demography.

Course structure:

We will begin with an introduction to classical evolutionary demography and the motivations for combing evolution and demography, incorporating enough basic evolutionary theory and demographic theory to get everyone on the same page. We will then focus on current topics in evolutionary demography, including:

  • Aging across the Tree of Life: Measures and Patterns
  • Sex-specific differences in mortality patterns: Evolution in action
  • Modes of adaptive explanation of demographic patterns: a survey
  • The pace and shape of aging
  • The evolution of mortality of the young
  • Age specific reproduction in the wild
  • Life-history allometry and Charnovian invariants

Finally, pairs of students will be asked to spend the afternoons of the 7th and 8th preparing short presentations, to be presented on July 9th. Each pair will discuss the evolutionary basis of a different demographic trait or phenomenon, what is known about it and how it can be investigated.


For July 4-8, each morning will consist of two lectures (one hour each) and each afternoon will have a one hour lab. Then the afternoon of July 9th will be occupied with short presentations by pairs of students.


Students should be familiar either with the basics of demographic life-table methods, or with evolutionary theory. Familiarity with Stata or R software will be very helpful.


Students will be evaluated on participation in class and on short presentations.

Financial support:

There is no tuition fee for this course. Students are expected to pay their own transportation and living costs. However, a limited number of scholarships are available on a competitive basis for outstanding candidates.

Recruitment of students:

  • Applicants should either be enrolled in a PhD program or have received their PhD.
  • A maximum of 16 students will be admitted.
  • The selection will be made by the MPIDR based on the applicants’ scientific qualifications.

How to apply:

Applications should be sent by email to the MPIDR. Please begin your email message with a statement saying that you apply for course IMPRSD 189 - Introduction to Evolutionary Demography.

  • You also need to include the following three documents, either in the text of the email or as attached documents. (1) A two-page curriculum vitae, including a list of your scholarly publications. (2) A one-page letter from your supervisor at your home institution supporting your application. (3) A one-page statement of your research and how it relates to course IMPRSD 189. Please indicate whether you would like to be considered for financial support.
  • Send your email to Heiner Maier (
  • Application deadline is 31 March 2011.
  • Applicants will be informed whether they will be admitted by 15 April 2011.


The course will make use of readings from:

  • Baudisch, A. 2011. The pace and shape of ageing. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1111/j.2041-210X.2010.00087.x
  • Caswell, H. 2001. Chapter 11, Matrix population models. Sinauer.
  • Jones, O. R., Gaillard, J. M., Tuljapurkar, S., Alho, J. S., Armitage, K. B., Becker, P. H., Bize, P., Brommer, J., Charmantier, A. & Charpentier, M. 2008 Senescence rates are determined by ranking on the fast-slow life history continuum. Ecology Letters 11, 664-673.
  • Levitis, D. A. 2011 Before senescence: the evolutionary demography of ontogenesis. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 278, 801-809.
  • Metcalf, C. J. E. & Pavard, S. 2007 Why evolutionary biologists should be demographers. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 22, 205-212.
  • Rebke, M., Coulson, T., Becker, P. H. & Vaupel, J. W. 2010 Reproductive improvement and senescence in a long-lived bird. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, 7841-7846.
  • Vaupel, J. W., Baudisch, A., Dolling, M., Roach, D. A. & Gampe, J. 2004 The case for negative senescence. Theoretical Population Biology 65, 339-351.

Additional reading material will be provided at the beginning of the course.

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