Evolutionary biology encompasses all levels of analysis from molecules to ecosystems. There are links with many other themes and with Earth Sciences and Archaeology and Anthropology.
Evolutionary biology has been transformed by the availability of DNA sequence data, which provide new ways to establish evolutionary relationships, to study population processes and to understand the evolutionary process itself. Building on the strength of Cambridge in molecular disciplines, a key aim is to develop interdisciplinary research.
The Museum of Zoology maintains a distinguished tradition in palaeontology, with current expertise on the evolution of basal vertebrates and mammals. This research provides data on the relationships of extinct groups and information on the historical pattern of character change that is available from no other source. Cambridge has been in the forefront of relating palaeontological insight to developmental and genetic data, and is particularly well placed to continue this fruitful fusion of disciplines.
Behavioural ecology is one of the strengths of the evolutionary biology group. Its importance results from the direct route it provides to study the effects of natural selection. It is involved in the identification and explanation of behavioural adaptations, in emphasising analyses of animals in the wild, in applying a strong theoretical framework, and in a commitment to comparative studies and experimental manipulation as a means of testing hypotheses.
Work in Cambridge includes theoretical work and empirical studies of life histories and social systems of birds, mammals and insects. This work links with studies of ecology and conservation biology.
A major area of recent expansion has been Evolutionary Developmental Biology, which by studying the evolution of developmental mechanisms seeks to link variation at the genome level with the diversity of morphology and other organismal traits. Current emphasis is on the diversity of arthropods, but as our understanding of vertebrate genetics matures, we are extending this approach to studies of vertebrate diversity. There is great potential for further links between this discipline and evolutionary genomics, as well as the already close links with developmental biology.
Related work links molecular variation at the DNA sequence level to phenotypes under selection in natural populations. Quantitative trait locus mapping and association studies are being used to identify genes controlling natural colour patterns of birds, primates and butterflies. This offers a unique opportunity to investigate the rejectability of evolutionary processes in distinct lineages.
Several epidemiologists in the University work within an evolutionary framework. The evolution of pathogens, such as influenza viruses, HIV, and malaria represents an important area of research combining evolutionary biology and population dynamics.