Broadly, I am interested in the interface between micro and macroevolution, and how microevolutionary processes generate macroevolutionary patterns. I don’t believe micro and macroevolution are different phenomena. Rather, I believe that they are different manifestations of the same underlying process. As such, I am interested in whether or not there are ‘universal laws’ that govern connect and govern evolutionary processes at multiple scales, through time and space. Some of the questions that guide my research include: How do the actions of individual organisms and/or the characters of species propagate through evolutionary scales to generate phylogenetic patterns? Likewise, how might phylogeny constrain evolutionary potential? What are the roles of evolutionary contingency and convergence in generating patterns of biodiversity?
One of the manifestations of this set of questions is a pronounced heterogeneity in the rate of evolution across the tree of life. Rather than proceeding in a clock-like manner, the dominating signal of evolution at deep phylogenetic scales seems to be one of spurts of change interspersed with periods of (relative) stasis. Such patterns are captured both in phenotypes (in the fossil record), and in the genomes of living taxa. In birds, I recently documented that heterogeneity in rate of molecular evolution across birds may be particularly extreme; the fastest evolving bird lineages (at least in terms of DNA sequences) seem to be evolving almost twenty times faster than lineages evolving at the slowest rates. It turns out that the rate of molecular evolution in birds is highly correlated to life history evolution.
In addition to my research, I’m very interested in how best to teach macroevolutionary thinking. While at Cornell, I’ve designed and taught my own curriculum in three macroevolution-focused ‘writing in the majors’ seminars. Over the last few years, I’ve also given a number of public outreach lectures to try to directly connect with non-academics and to explain where some of their tax dollars are going. Working with the Laboratory of Ornithology also empowers me to communicate the results of my work to the public through various media outlets. I recently had an opportunity to consult on the reboot of ’The Magic School Bus,’ which is now on Netflix. Going forward I am excited about the possibility of contributing to other educational programs as well.
In the time I’m not thinking about evolution, I can often be find on various social media platforms (@jakeberv), or consuming all kinds of movies, TV, art and music. I also used to be pretty into photography and am now rediscovering it as a creative outlet—hopefully will get back into sharing stuff on the web soon.