Systematics, Evolution and Ecology (SEE)

Carol Peretz from the Powell Lab searches for ants in Costa Rica.

Earth's immense biodiversity is a product of the complex interactions between evolutionary and ecological processes from deep history through to the present day.  Graduate studies in Systematics, Evolution and Ecology (SEE) explore the complex reciprocal relationships between the evolution of form through time and the ecological interactions of species with each other and the environment. Our endowed systematics program is one of the few in the world specializing in the principles and methods of phylogenetic analysis and comparative biology, putting us at the forefront of biodiversity studies. In recent years, this has been complemented by an expanded group of ecologists working on questions that address how ecological interactions shape and maintain contemporary patterns of biodiversity at a range of ecological scales.

Currently, seven tenure-track faculty in the Department of Biology carry out research primarily in the area of systematics and evolution and four carry out research primarily in ecology. The research foci of these faculty and their labs includes methods in systematics, biogeography, phylogenomics, bioinformatics, paleontology, functional morphology, eco-morphology, and community ecology. The systematics faculty and their students are actively engaged in discovering and studying living and fossil biodiversity throughout the world. The ecology faculty apply observational, experimental, and comparative approaches to studying how ecological interactions shape species traits and the structure of ecological systems from the scale of organisms through to ecosystems.  SEE faculty also study behavioral and feeding ecology, natural selection and sexual selection in a variety of vertebrate and invertebrate systems as well as ecosystem-level interactions in both terrestrial and marine systems.

Recent SEE fieldwork includes expeditions to the Amazon Basin, Brazilian savanna, Australian rainforests, the Gobi Desert of China, West Africa, islands of the South Pacific, and Sri Lanka as well as local studies throughout the mid-Atlantic region and the Midwest. Study organisms include amphibian and reptiles, fishes, protists, spiders, ants, bees, moths, angiosperms and crustaceans. Our program is enhanced by a formal agreement with the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History enabling curators to co-advise students and facilitating access to its extensive collections, and by the GWU Computational Biology Institute. GWU is member of the Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS) and our students regularly participate in the tropical biology courses organized by this consortium in Costa Rica and other parts of the world. Faculty with research interests in this area include Professors Clark, Forster, Hernandez, Hormiga, LipscombLill, Orti, Powell, Pyron, A.Smith, and Zanne.

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