BIOL 652: Evolutionary Biology

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank,” wrote Darwin in the last paragraph of The Origin of Species. In this course, that is exactly what we do. Evolution is the unifying theory of biology, and intersects with all other biological disciplines, but is strongly associated with adaptation and the tangled bank of biodiversity. This course provides an advanced understanding of contemporary evolutionary biology. Evolutionary processes and subdisciplines covered include adaptation by natural selection, neutral evolution, mutation, genetic drift, sexual selection, molecular evolution, speciation, gene flow, and population and quantitative genetics. Specific topics may include human evolution, the evolution of sex, evolution of infectious diseases, adaptation to climate change, phylogenies animal behavior, and crop domestication. The course includes theory and experiments, with the goal of enabling students to make and evaluate qualitative and quantitative predictions about evolutionary outcomes. In general, we focus on the dynamic processes of evolution as it occurs, rather than a descriptive history of life on Earth. In this course, students have to write (and re-write) several short but substantive essays. In comparison to other science courses, relatively little weight is given to exams. However, problem sets and other homework assignments are frequent. Engaged class participation is also as substantial component of final grades. Students will have to rely on their prior learning in BIOL 301 and BIOL 303 to succeed in the course, both of which are pre-requisites for the course.

This is a mid-size class intended to foster students’ ability to analyze complex scientific ideas. In fact, developing analytical skills is as important in this course as gaining an understanding of particular evolutionary concepts. We emphasize writing, and students work on improving the structure and clarity of their written work through re-writes.

Graduate students are allowed to take the course, but I generally think this is not an appropriate course for graduate students in the Department of Biological Sciences. However, our 700- level Evolution course is rarely offered, so this may be all you can get. This can also be an appropriate course for M.A.T. students, or graduate students in Marine Science, Geography, or Russian Literature (yes, really). I encourage graduate students interested in the course to discuss it with me before enrolling, to ensure that you have adequate preparation to succeed in the course.

Successful students will be able to:

  • 1) identify biological questions that could be informed by evolutionary principles
  • 2) describe major processes of evolution
  • 3) distinguish between neutral and non-neutral evolutionary change
  • 4) understand the application of evolutionary theory to questions in diverse areas of biology
  • 5) judge the effectiveness of empirical tests of evolutionary hypotheses
  • 6) make quantitative and qualitative predictions of evolutionary change
  • 7) interpret data and graphs relevant to evolutionary concepts
  • 8) design experiments to test evolutionary hypotheses
  • 9) write clear discussions of issues in evolutionary biology
  • Actual Comments from Prior Students

    "Clearly knows his subject well. Fun and approachable. Provides many opportunities to earn grades and demonstrate your knowledge rather than just giving exams."

    "Dr. Dudycha explains some of the complicated aspects of evolutionary biology really well. He is extremely nice and is definitely concerne in how well we do and understand thematerial. He encourages group work, which is not my favorite, but I understand how it is necessary."

    "Dr. Dudycha is literally the best, he’s my favorite and most effective professor at the university."

    "Enjoyable class. Prof. Dudycha is approachable, informative, and entertaining."

    "He is really passionate about his work, and you can really feel that when he speaks."

    "He was an excellent teacher. Very good at keeping students engaged and focused. The only improvement I could think of is for the class to not be so close to lunch time."

    "My writing has greatly improved because of his suggestions, and my essays in this class are some of my favorites that I've ever written. How thoroughly he understands the topics in this class really encourages me to learn them too. I'd definitely take a class with him again."

    "Speaking as someone whose area is not evolutionary biology, Dr. Dudycha communicates extremely clearly, making the often difficult material not only accessible, but, as a result, all the more interesting."

    "Great understanding in evolutionary biology was gained. Balanced material between expanding on old topics and introducing new ones."

    "I love how it builds on 301, but it seems like a lot of repetition from 301."

    "The only negative aspect was that the course wasn’t longer."

    "This has been one of the best courses I've taken at USC. It has made me a way better biologist and excited about its topics. The tests, essays, and quants were especially good ways to test my understanding of the material."

    "This is a course that I desperately wanted taught at USC and I hope we continue to offer it. For the few biology students who aren't interested in Med school, this course offers the exact kind of material that we would want to encourter as undergrads and first year graduate students."

    "Very interesting material."

    "Professor Dudycha is one of the best professors I have ever had. He is very helpful in answering questions, clearly explaining lectures, and is very reasonable. I like how the class grade is not completely based off of a few exams. It takes the stress off of trying to simply do well on exams and motivates me to actually learn and understand things in the class rather than just trying to memorize things. The quizzes, essays and problem sets help me learn the material much better as well."

    "I would recommend this course to other students."

    "This is an excellent class, fun, and motivating."

    "Positively, he gave us a lot of helpful and factual information. Negatively, he gave us a lot of information and it was hard to gather what information to use to study because of the mass amount, and inability to narrow it down."

    "Positive- He is really funny. I enjoyed his class, because he made it enjoyable. Negative- [blank]"

    "Absolutely love Dudycha not only as a professor but as a person."

    "Excellent professor"