Bob, Emilie, and I just got back from Baton Rouge this week after a visit to Louisiana State University. We got to attend an excellent workshop on Monday introducing phylogenetic analyses in RevBayes put on by Sebastian Höhna. This is a really neat, new piece of software that can be used for phylogeny reconstruction. As a systematic biologist, much of my work centers around reconstructing the evolutionary relationships among species. We primarily do this by comparing the genetic sequences of species across the tree of life. We then use statistical models that describe how the process of molecular change occurs to reconstruct (in a quantitative framework) how different species are related. In doing so, we can understand a lot of different things about how evolution has occurred, for example, how species have changed phenotypically over time or why species occur in different areas of the world. One of the neat things about RevBayes is that it provides an extremely flexible framework for building different models to match the different biological processes that we think are important in different parts of the tree of life or across different evolutionary timescales (as well as a measure of the uncertainty associated with our phylogenetic estimate). If you are interested in learning more about phylogenetics, check out this cool interactive webpage, which provides a cool introduction.
We also got to spend some time discussing projects and catching up with the Brown lab, and had some productive discussions with Sebastian about implementing checks of model adequacy in RevBayes. This is a major goal of Bob and Jeremy’s NSF grant, and the idea is to provide tools to the scientific community so that when they use phylogenetic models to estimate the evolutionary history within a group of species, they can also subsequently check how well their model fits their real dataset (and most importantly whether they can trust their estimate of species evolutionary relationships). Although we missed Greg Pauly’s seminar on Friday (which we heard had some really cool results of his research on using citizen science to track species invasions in L.A.), we did get a chance to go herping at Bluebonnet swamp and saw some great skinks, snakes, turtles, and frogs. Finally, no trip to Louisiana would be complete without taking advantage of some excellent cajun food. All of that made for a great trip that just happened to coincide with my birthday, thanks to the LSU crew for being such great hosts!