Where did I disappear to? I don’t know about you, but my summer is quickly slipping by right before my very eyes. I’ve been working on research and finishing up a manuscript, but the weather is so beautiful all I really want to do is go outside. I did manage to go for a lovely hike the other week…more on that later. The other week I also attended the Willi Hennig Society meeting in Riverside, California. You may be asking, who is this Willi Hennig besides someone with a fantastically fun name to say aloud? Willi Hennig was a German entomologist (he studied flies) and is basically the founding father of phylogenetic systematics, which is what I study. He developed the current preferred theory and methods behind reconstructing the evolutionary relationships between different taxa. Of the many things that he wrote in his book “Phylogenetic Systematics”*, he discussed synapomorphies – a huge word, but simply means shared, derived characters. For example, hair is a synapomorphy for mammals since all mammals share the character of hair while other taxa do not. He was also all about monophyletic groups or clades – all the organisms that share a common ancestor. He basically put forth a theory and methods to empirically test relationships of taxa based on shared, derived characters. This was a huge step forward in the field of evolutionary biology and he’s definitely a big wig in my field. The only person probably revered more than Hennig is Darwin himself.
The meeting was pretty fantastic – there were great talks and wonderful social activities throughout. (For details about the talks, visit this blog for a great overview from one of my new Hennig meeting buddies.) Also, there were numerous coffee breaks throughout the day, which I took full advantage of, and during those they served some pretty fabulous food. One day they had ice cream bars and gigantic chocolate covered strawberries with sparkles. Yes, that is correct – sparkles. I also met some graduate students who are studying systematics that I’ve never had the chance to meet before this meeting. It was wonderful to meet them and chat and now look forward to future Hennig meetings where I’ll hopefully see them again.
The meeting next year is in Germany so I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll have the funds to go next year and present some of my research on beetles!
*Willi Hennig wrote this in German, so the actual title is “Grundzüge einer Theorie der phylogenetischen Systematik”.