Selection and evolvability: Concepts, measurements and statistics (completed)

Colloquium 1. Main activity: Year 2008-2010

The overall goals of this Colloquium are to resolve misunderstandings, clarify the meaning of fundamental parameters and measurement procedures, and to establish models that are operational in the sense that they can be fitted to data from experiments and field work.


Formal measurement theory is a mathematical discipline to study the relationship between data and reality. Whilst many areas of biology have achieved a high level of statistical sophistication, biology is lagging far behind fields such as physics, psychometry, and economics in its attention to problems of measurement.

Summary of focus

This Colloquium focuses on conceptual, statistical and theoretical issues concerned with quantification in biology, with special emphasis on evolutionary biology.

A sub-goal of the Colloquium is to introduce formal measurement theory to ecology and evolutionary biology.

Our overall goal is to analyse the quantification of central concepts in evolutionary biology, ecology, and genetics. Concepts such as constraint, fitness, rate of evolution, dispersal and competition are crucial to theory in these fields, but still little attention has been given to how to gather and utilise data in order to make them measurable quantities. For each concept, we examine the theoretical context and models that provide it with meaning, and then we examine the ways in which the concept is quantified, and look at the statistical methods and problems involved with its study


  1. A large review/perspective paper on measurement theory in Quarterly Review of Biology by Houle, Wagner, Pélabon, and Hansen.
  2. A theory paper in Evolution by Wagner on the measurement theory of fitness, which was strongly influenced by his participation in the Colloquium.
  3. A paperon evolutionary rates in PNAS by Hansen and Stevan Arnold, who participated in the colloquium workshop in 2008, and his student Josef Uyeda who spent a semester at CEES.
  4. A meta-analysis in Evolutionary Biology on the effects of scaling on quantitative genetic measures of genetic variation by Hansen, Pélabon, and Houle. 
  5. RCN funding was awarded to the project: ‘The evolvability of allometry’ with Christophe Pélabon at NTNU with Hansen and Houle as collaborators.
  6. Work on the measurement of allometry involving Hansen, Pélabon, Wagner, Houle, along with CEES PhD student Kjetil Voje and postdoc Trond Reitan.


David Houle (Florida State University)

Günter Wagner (Yale University)

Hirohisa Kishino (Tokyo University)

Published Nov. 27, 2012 10:57 AM - Last modified Oct. 10, 2014 04:51 PM