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Richard O Prum

The Evolution of Beauty:How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World - And Us

Interview with Richard O Prum

February 13, 2018

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About Richard O Prum

I am an evolutionary ornithologist with broad interests in avian biology. I have done research on diverse topics, including avian phylogenetics, behavioral evolution, feather evolution and development, sexual selection and mate choice, sexual conflict, aesthetic evolution, avian color vision, structural color, carotenoid pigmentation, evolution of avian plumage coloration, historical biogeography, avian mimicry, and the theropod dinosaur origin of birds. For more details see my Research pages.

I have conducted field work throughout the Neotropics and in Madagascar, and have studied fossil theropods in China.

At Yale, I am the Curator of Ornithology and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. I have previously served as Chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (2008-2011).

From 2012-2017, I was the Director of Franke Program in Science and the Humanities (http://www.yale.edu/whc/frankeprogram.html), which is an initiative at Yale that aims to foster communication, mutual understanding, collaborative research and teaching among diverse scientific and humanistic disciplines. The Franke Program sponsored lectures, events, workshops, and courses that span the major traditional division of the university. It is made possible by the generosity of Richard (‘53) and Barbara Franke.

Education

  • Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. A.B. Cum Laude in Biology, 1982.
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ph.D. in Biological Sciences, 1989.

 

Source: Yale University - Prum Lab

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Interview Summary

In his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin laid the foundation of our understanding of biological evolution with the theory of natural selection and the “survival of the fittest” principle. A little over a decade later, Darwin went on to expound his views on sexual selection, which were, however, strongly rejected by his peers at the time.  

Richard O. Prum, an ornithology professor at Yale University and a widely-respected evolutionary biologist, has written The Evolution of Beauty in defense of Darwin’s views of co-evolution from both natural and sexual selection, with a strong emphasis on female choice in mating. Based on his keen observation of birds and animal behavior, Prum elaborates on his anchor theme of the female sexual preference as a major influence on behavior and evolution, and, last but not least, natural beauty. 

Key Topics

  1. What are two main theories of evolution?
  2. What are Charles Darwin’s natural selection and sexual selection theories?
  3. Why does the “survival of the fittest” principle not account for ornaments seen in many birds and animals?
  4. Are many mating criteria arbitrary in origin, and what does “beauty happens” mean?
  5. How does sexual selection occur in birds and animals?
  6. What does the evolution of feathers tell us?
  7. What do the male behaviors of the bowerbird and the manakin suggest?
  8. What do different traits of female birds and animals respond to?
  9. How has female choice been a major factor driving human evolution?
  10. How have mating choices in humans evolved and how has the evolution shaped sexual relations and human culture?

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