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Division of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology (DSEB): 1999 Spring Newsletter

This Newsletter by Section

Message from the Chair

Paula Mabee

Greetings to all of you in the Division of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology! A recap of the intense DSEB activity at the January 1999 meeting in Denver is the subject of my report. Special thanks to the DSEB members who co-sponsored and participated in the three exciting integrative symposia at this meeting: "Function and Evolution of the Vertebrate Axis" organized by John H. Long and Tom J. Koob, "Evolutionary Origin of Feathers" organized by Paul F. A. Maderson and Dominique Homberger, and "Evolution of Starfishes: Morphology, Molecules, Development and Paleobiology" organized by Daniel Janies, Daniel Blake and Richard Mooi. The focus at all of these symposia was on combining solid morphological analyses with the latest in systematic methodology and molecular analyses to generate new ideas concerning organismal evolution. As I mentioned in our Fall newsletter, our division is a perfect forum for systematists to generate and address questions concerning the interplay between morphological, ecological, functional and molecular data sets. We look forward to even more at the Atlanta Annual Meeting on Jan. 4-8, 2000!

A number of interesting symposium ideas were proposed at the DSEB business meeting for Atlanta 2000 and in Chicago 2001. The first is being spearheaded by Donald Swiderski, a symposium for the upcoming Atlanta meeting, entitled "Beyond Reconstruction: Using Phylogenies to Understand Histories of Vertebrate Evolution." We hope to be co-sponsoring this with the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and the Division of Vertebrate Morphology.

Congratulations Anne Maglia! The Best Student Paper award was presented to Anne (Division of Herpetology, University of Kansas) for her excellent talk on her Ph.D. research entitled "Osteology and Skeletal Development of Pelobatoid Frogs (Anomura: Pelobatoidea): Phylogenetic Implications." Anne received a check for $100 and the official kudos from DSEB. Our division strongly encourages paper presentations from students doing systematically oriented research. Please talk to your students now about sending in an August 1999 abstract for the 2000 meeting.

Our division voted to initiate an annual mini-symposium/ mini-workshop entitled "Phylogenetics for Dummies" (a take-off, of course, from the best-selling Dummies series…) or possibly "Systematics for the Phylogenetically Challenged." At each meeting, DSEB will sponsor (pay for registration costs) two members to present 40-minute talks, followed by 20 minutes of discussion, introducing us to the relevance of phylogenies. The emphasis will not be on how to reconstruct phylogenies, but rather on 1) how to superimpose characters on a phylogeny and interpret character evolution and 2) how to choose a "good" phylogeny from the literature or how to find an expert in the group. After this two hour educational and light-hearted mini-effort, we will set up some kind of hands-on computer workshop at which people can stop by. We expect this to be fun, informative and integrative. This new divisional service will take continued effort from our membership. If you are interested in participating, or if you have ideas on how to be most effective at presenting phylogenetics, please contact us. We look forward to seeing all of you dummies and your friends at the new mini-workshop!

At the Denver meeting, the SICB Executive Committee enthusiastically approved a proposal for the establishment of a new Division of Evolutionary Developmental Biology (EvoDevo). The Division of Systematic Biology also enthusiastically endorsed the formation of this new division. We see a very important role for our members in contributing to the "evolutionary" part of this new integrative division. First, the strong empirical methods of phylogenetics are critical for interpreting the evolution of developmental features. Second, formulating interesting and testable hypotheses regarding the evolution of developmental features is greatly facilitated by phylogenetic methods. And there are many more ways that our knowledge bases - and members - should and, over time, likely will interact. To inaugurate this new division, it was proposed that there be a "foundation symposium" next year in Atlanta. Since the EvoDevo division presently has neither a membership nor officers, a coalition of Billie Swalla (program officer of the Division of Developmental and Cell Biology), Scott Gilbert (chair of the Division of Developmental and Cell Biology), Dick Burian (chair of the Division of Integrative and Comparative Issues) and myself are working on it. The symposium will be on the history and philosophy of evolutionary developmental biology. We already have a slate of very exciting speakers and talks.

We invite more DSEB activity! We would like suggestions on updating our web page (! Also, if you are interested in developing a symposium for the 2001 meetings, please contact us for any type of help. Please encourage your graduate and postdoctoral students to join and participate in the Y2K meeting. Sponsor their membership for a year or fund their trip if possible!

Message from the Program Officer

Jon Norenburg

The Denver SICB meeting provided plenty of evidence of the continued resurgence of the Division of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology. We hosted a well-attended session of excellent contributed oral presentations and a dozen posters. At least an equal number of contributed papers presented in other sessions could have found us to be a more appropriate venue. Especially indicative of our division's vitality, to those of us who more or less comprise the "establishment," was the large number of student and postdoctoral presenters. Among these were nine presentations for our division's Best Student Paper award. The award went to Anne Maglia, for her presentation "Osteology and Skeletal Development of Pelobatoid Frogs (Anomura: Pelobatoidea): Phylogenetic Implications," which narrowly edged out several other excellent presentations. All of the presentations were of competitive quality, and the presenters deserve to be acknowledged here: Rachel Collins, Jessica Garb, Susanne Hauswaldt, Scott Harrison, Kirsten Jensen, Eric Lovely, Bryan McCloskey and Tracy White.

Many of you have noticed a variety of changes in the abstract process and in organization of the meeting over the last few years. This is not change for change's sake. The program officers for the divisions, the SICB Program Advisory Committee and the SICB Executive Committee have been and are concerned with the appeal of our meetings and with resolving long-standing complaints about scheduling of the meeting program. Obviously, no solution makes everyone happy; achieving consensus on major changes is difficult and not without risk to our membership numbers. Some problems occur because individuals assume the division or Society program officer to be omniscient. Symposium organizers especially must maintain close contact with relevant program officers.

One major change that we hope will be invisible to the members is a change in the way abstracts are sorted and programmed into sessions. Once the abstracts are submitted, the Society program officer will interact with the division program officers at several successive stages of developing the meeting schedule. This is a significantly increased workload for the Society program officer. The aspect of this that will be evident to all who submit an abstract is the focus on organizing presentations according to "themes" or "topics" based on preferences selected from a list of options on the transmittal form. This is more or less how most division program officers have organized sessions, and it is reasonable to expect that most sessions will look much like they always have and be strongly divisional in nature. However, with the new approach potentially interesting interdivisional sessions and conflicts between sessions with similar themes will identify themselves more readily. I believe this is good for our division, because our members already are united by theme. I expect that John Pearse, the SICB program officer will provide additional details about upcoming changes. It is important that you communicate with me and/or John if you have suggestions or problems with the way things are working.

It is time to be planning symposia and workshops for Chicago in 2001. Informal symposia or workshops not intended for publication also are welcome. These can be very useful but are low on stress for the organizers. Alternatively, you may not wish to organize but would like a workshop on a particular subject -- pass your suggestion along to your program officer.

We all hope that two of the changes made by SICB will please the Society membership. The first change, and the one that will probably have the greatest impact on Society members, is the increased emphasis on thematic sessions. The second is the increased use of electronic communications, including electronic newsletters, ballots and abstract forms. By putting more emphasis on general themes, related talks may be put together even if they might normally transgress divisional boundaries. The obvious problem is to find ways to relate talks so that the "integrative" part of our name truly applies. We should not invent new (and even more artificial) ways to distintegrate our organisms. To make this work, we all need to pay close attention to the list of options provided on the transmittal form. If, for example, your talk is on the evolution of the ontogeny of feeding, and you present a new phylogenetic hypothesis for the group, along with new data on the ontogeny of feeding, can you find an appropriate category on the list of options? If not, tell the program officers about your difficulties and concerns. And we also need to see how the divisional organization works when the talks are not defined by the same categories as the divisions. As to the conversion to electronic communications, this should work well, but if you find that you're having problems, make sure to contact someone (such as me).

Message from the Secretary

Miriam Zelditch

Like Paula and Jon, I was very pleased to see so many contributed papers in our division at the meeting in Denver, and I'm also very excited about the new Divison of Evolutionary Developmental Biology. It seems obvious that the new division should have many interests in common with ours, considering our shared emphasis on evolution and the value of developmental data in systematics (which reminds me to congratulate Anne Maglia for her excellent phylogenetic analysis incorporating ontogenetic data). Historically, systematics and developmental biology have close connections, and I hope to see these strengthened at our meetings.

Paula mentioned our plans to host annual workshops, in conjunction with mini-symposia. Please suggest useful topics. Ideas that come with volunteers are especially welcome.

Are you among the endangered population known as taxonomists? Do you care about the rules of zoological nomenclature? Then you should be a member of AAZN, especially if you question the status quo. Activities of the International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature are supported by voluntary contributions, of which North American zoologists contribute less in actual cash than the British do. Does money buy influence? You betcha. The AAZN has been an effective voice for action, but too many zoologists abdicate the process of constructive dialogue. To be in on the action, send $20 for membership dues to: Treasurer, AAZN, c/o National Museum of Natural History, MRC-168, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560.

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