Addressing the American Society of Zoologists in 1964, evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky spoke about the importance of Charles Darwin’s insights into natural selection and common ancestors to modern science.
“Nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution,” he said. “If the living world has not arisen from common ancestors by means of an evolutionary process, then the fundamental unity of living things is a hoax and their diversity is a joke.”
This sentiment — the impact of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection on all fields related to biology — is explored annually during the Darwin Days events hosted at the University of Wyoming.
The events — a lecture taking place today and a trivia contest Feb. 21 — are the result of a collaboration between the UW Geology Museum and the Biodiversity Institute.
“Evolutionary biology is kind of the foundation for most natural sciences,” Biodiversity Institute Director of Science Programs Brian Barber said. “And (Darwin) got the ball rolling. Many others have contributed — many thousands and thousands of others — but he was the person who came up with a mechanism for evolution to occur and so it’s just … a celebration of his contribution to that field and science in general.”
Giving this year’s lecture, Paleontologist Michael D’Emic is scheduled to discuss his work investigating the speed at which dinosaurs grew.
“We can look at the bones of dinosaurs, and if we look at a cross section of a bone, you can see specific lines, kind of like tree rings,” said Laura Vietti, UW Geology Museum and collections manager. “And those correlate with the growth of a dinosaur just like it would with the growth of a tree.”
A biology professor for Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, D’Emic is no stranger to Wyoming, having worked on several digs in Big Horn Basin, Vietti said.
“He’s studying those growth lines in dinosaurs to try and figure out how fast dinosaurs would have grown, and then that has some implications to whether they were hot or cold blooded,” she said. “He’s done some really important research on that end.”
D’Emic’s lecture will be geared for a general audience and followed by a presentation of some of the museum’s fossils, Vietti said.
“We’re going to have a bunch of fossils on the table and we’re going to invite the audience to the front … to do a show and tell of some actual examples of some of the things he’s talking about,” she said. “Unfortunately, a lot of what he does is microscopic, but we have some bigger specimens that will show what he’s talking about.”
Darwin Days also includes a Darwin trivia night, scheduled for Feb. 21 at O’Dwyer’s Public House.
“It is a really cool collaboration between the Biodiversity Institute and the Geology Museum,” Vietti said. “They study modern animals. We study past animals and so it’s really just a nice marriage of the two.”
Darwin Days commemorate the famous naturalist’s birthday, Feb. 12, and has been recognized sporadically by a wide range of groups and people since Darwin’s death in 1882.
D’Emic’s lecture begins at 5:30 p.m. today in the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center. Guests are invited to share pizza and cookies following the lecture. The event is free to the public. Go to the “How Fast Did Dinosaurs Grow Up?” Facebook event page for more information.