Evolutionary Biologists to Speak Friday at U.Va. on Evolution of Darwin's Finches

March 14, 2012 — Renowned evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant will give a public talk on the "Evolution of Darwin's Finches" on Friday at noon in the University of Virginia's Gilmer Hall, room 130.

The Grants, a wife-and-husband research team, are known for improving scientists' understanding of evolutionary patterns and the genetic mechanisms behind evolutionary changes. Much of their work has been in the Galapagos Islands, where they have focused on rapid evolutionary changes to ground finches related to fluctuating climate conditions between very wet and very dry periods.

The Grants have received numerous awards in recognition of their contributions to science, including the prestigious Balzan Prize and the Kyoto Prize. Their work also was the subject of author Jonathan Weiner's 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time."

The talk is sponsored by the Department of Biology's Graduate Student and Postdoc Association, which each academic year invites two leading biologists to present a talk and meet with students.

"We are absolutely thrilled to have Peter and Rosemary Grant coming to talk with us," said graduate biology student Carolyn Beans, organizer of the event. "The Grants are among the most notable evolutionary biologists of the last century. Through their studies of Darwin's finches on the Galapagos Islands, the Grants demonstrated that evolutionary change is not always slow and gradual, but rather can occur rapidly, even within the span of a couple of years."

The Grants met in 1960 at the University of British Columbia, where Peter was earning his Ph.D. and Rosemary lectured (she earned her Ph.D. at Uppsala University in Sweden). They've spent more than 35 years conducting their studies on the Galapagos Islands, often camping out for extended periods of time.

"It may be that the Grants' field work goes down as the 20th century's most significant field research in evolutionary biology," said Doug Taylor, chair of the biology department in the College of Arts & Sciences. "They are the only wife-and-husband team to win the famed Kyoto Prize, as well as honors too numerous to mention."

The Grants are retired from Princeton University's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. They frequently give seminars at universities and colleges around the country, often at the invitation of graduate students.