Scott D. Sampson at

Sampson150Efforts to educate children and the general public about biological evolution have long suffered a severe crisis of relevancy independent of religious influences, and this crisis continues unabated. Even for those who accept its veracity in this country and others, evolution is generally (and mistakenly) envisioned as a process of the past, encompassed by abstract concepts that have little bearing on humans, let alone the future of Earth’s diversity. This failure of education, while complicated by a number of factors, is due in large part to a lengthy history of fragmentation and compartmentalization within academia that has left us with a void between two fundamental ideas: ecology and evolution.

To date, professional ecologists have focused overwhelmingly on processes operating on timescales too brief for evolution to be easily perceived. Conversely, evolutionary biologists are typically interested in short-term lab-based activities aimed at cells or genes, equally short-term effects of genetic change within populations, or processes involving turnover of species through geologic time. Within these distinct research programs, a synthesis of evolutionary and ecological theory has generally seemed unnecessary. Is it really surprising, then, that students rare develop a deep understanding of, let alone any sense of affinity with, these key concepts?

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