While Charles Darwin may have died in the 17th century, the Graduate Organization of Biology Students feel that the impact of his research is still relevant today.
VCU hosted the 16th annual Darwin Day this last week. The main event was a speech by renowned urologist and evolutionary ecologist Robert Ricklefs, who currently works at the University of Missouri-St. Louis in the Department of Biology. The event was held in the Student Commons and was organized in a collective effort by VCU’s Graduate Organization of Biology Students, the Graduate Student Association, the department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and VCU Life Sciences
Jenna Dodson, the vice president of Graduate Organization of Biology Students, pointed out areas in Darwin’s discoveries are relevant today.
“The talk emphasized how Darwin’s theory relates to the diversity and richness of species which, with international widespread species declines, climate change, and habitat loss, is a topic that is more important today than ever,” Dodson said.
Ricklefs’ presentation was titled ‘Darwin’s Wedge Metaphor and the Development of Community Ecology.’ The wedge metaphor originates from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which states that, “the face of Nature may be compared to a yielding surface, with ten thousand sharp wedges packed close together and driven inwards with incessant blows, sometimes one wedge being struck, and then another with greater force.”
This implies that competition is necessary to survive because for a wedge to stick into the surface , it has to push other wedges out.
Another main premise was a debate about niche partitioning, which is the idea that natural selection leads species to adapt they obtain and use resources due to competition. Darwin believed that this was always the case, but Ricklefs argued that this is not always true.
“I think Darwin’s ideas are still relevant to us and the influence is still perceptible for sure in ecology as well as evolution, but nonetheless we have to revise thinking about a lot of things,” Ricklefs said.
Nick May, the President of the Graduate Organization of Biology Students, felt that the event presented a big opportunity for the biology department as a whole.
“It’s generally a celebration of Darwin’s life and contributions to modern science,” May said.
“Dr. Robert Ricklefs came in and gave a talk. We have a couple other events where he meets graduate students, he gets to talk with faculty . All together its ou rbig visibility event for the biology department.”
Vice President Jenna Dodson was impressed with the way Ricklefs was able to convey messages to everyone in the audience.
“He definitely broke the everything down into a way that the general public could understand,” Dodson said. “A lot of students were from other departments so may not understand science.”
Dodson felt that the event was a success.
“It seemed really, really positive,” she said. “Its seemed to me like there weren’t enough seats, people standing up and sitting down so definitely a great turnout. It was really awesome.”
The feeling was mutual, as Ricklefs enjoyed his time at VCU.
“My reaction to VCU so far has been completely positive,” he said. “Its been great. I’ve enjoyed talking to the students here.”