What came first, the chicken or the egg?

24 February 2003

Pure cladistics and pina coladas: Prof Tim Crowe (middle, front row) with delegates from the recent Workshop on Advanced Cladistics held at UCT.

THE Departments of Botany and Zoology recently hosted a workshop on cladistics, and here Associate Professor Tim Crowe of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology shares some thoughts on what happened at the gathering:

"What came first, the chicken or the egg? From a scientific perspective, this question is addressed by cladistics, the branch of evolutionary biology that attempts to discover the Tree of Life, the evolutionary genealogy.

"The answer to this question is of course the egg, because fish, frogs and primitive vertebrates that evolved before birds have the ability to lay eggs. Thanks to generous support from UCT, the Willi Hennig Society, the National Research Foundation, during 13-17 January 2003, a Workshop on Advanced Cladistics was held in the Departments of Botany and Zoology at UCT.

"The workshop was hosted by Crowe and Dr Terry Hedderson of the Department of Botany. In addition to Crowe and Hedderson, invited lecturers included Rauri Bowie (University of Stellenbosch), Professor Diana Lipscomb (George Washington University, USA) and Drs Mari Källersjö and Steve Farris (Swedish Museum of Natural History). Workshop participants came from a range of universities (UCT, Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Rhodes, Potchefstroom), the South African and Transvaal Museums, the Plant Protection Research Institute and National Botanical Institute.

"Topics covered included species and speciation and a range of quantitative approaches to cladistics. Workshop sessions invariably flowed over (lubricated by beer and specially made pina coladas) into the evenings at the UCT Club."

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