The modern theory of evolution forms the theoretical foundation for our understanding of biology. Indeed, Theodosius Dobzhansky famously proclaimed that “nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution." Be it the dynamics of interacting populations, the structure and function of organisms, or the molecular interactions within cells, evolutionary biologists gain insight by seeing biological problems in four dimensions. Explaining how differences among organisms arise from DNA differences, for example, is central to the goals of evolutionary biology. Understanding biodiversity, from diversity in human drug response to diversity of species in undisturbed ecosystems, requires a better understanding of how changes in DNA lead to changes in organisms. Evolutionary biologists in UCSB persue this challange from many angles, including population genetics, evolutionary physiology, and phylogenetics. Predicting ecological responses to global change also hinge on an understanding of evolution. Protecting ultra-diverse habitats like coral reefs, endemic local ecosystems such as serpentine plants in California, and agro-ecosystems that feed the human population all depend on understanding ecological interactions. However, understanding the current network of species interactions is insufficient: these interactions change over time due to evolution. The integration of ecology and evolution is therefore a core goal of our department. For these and other reasons, evolutionary biologists at UCSB are integrating an understanding of the causes of evolution with the consequences of those processes.

Research Areas

Clarkia unguiculata with a visiting pollinator.

Evolutionary ecology integrates population genetics, demography, and ecology with the study of natural selection and other mechanisms to detect adaptation in wild populations, species, and higher taxa.

Evolutionary Genetics

Evolutionary geneticists seek to understand evolution at the level of genes, genotypes and their interactions through studies incorporating phylogenetic, theoretical, molecular and experimental approaches.


Macroevolution is the study of processes that regulate biodiversity over geologic time scales.