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Information for Researchers No. 36 | 25 July 2011
Priority Programme “Probabilistic Structures in Evolution” (SPP 1590)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has announced the establishment of a new Priority Programme, entitled “Probabilistic Structures in Evolution” (SPP 1590). The programme is designed to run for six years.

Biological evolution is a complex phenomenon driven by various underlying processes, such as mutation and recombination of genetic material, reproduction of individuals, competition, and selection of favourable types. Studying the interplay of these processes requires a substantial use of mathematical models and methods.

Over the past decades, much of this modelling and analysis took place on a deterministic level, using dynamical systems and differential equations, and this has led to an elaborate theory. However, the processes of evolution have intrinsically random elements, such as random reproduction, which leads to stochastic fluctuations of gene frequencies and the emergence of random genealogies.

The underlying stochastic processes are receiving increased attention, not least because they have shaped present-day genomes. Indeed, the study of these processes is crucial for understanding observations and interpreting data that arise in modern empirical evolutionary biology. From the point of view of mathematics, challenging new structures emerge, such as Fleming-Viot and ancestral processes with high offspring variation, coalescents with spatial and genetic structure, and individual-based models of adaptive dynamics.

The main objective of the Priority Programme is the in-depth theoretical study of

  • stochastic processes in population genetics (that is, describing the evolution of the genetic structure of populations under the action of the various evolutionary forces, in particular in the presence of selection and recombination),

  • stochastic models of adaptive dynamics (that is, individual-based models for the joint description of ecology and evolution), and probabilistic aspects of evolutionary game theory.

Retrospective genealogical aspects are an inherent part of population genetics theory, but should also be developed for game theory and adaptive dynamics. Therefore, random genealogies and trees form a conceptual anchor to all themes in the Priority Programme. In this context, structures such as evolving genealogies, coalescents with highly-variable offspring distribution, and genealogies with genetic and geographic structure will be targeted.

The programme thus aims at the further development of the mathematical theory of biological evolution. In addition, projects involving the analysis of related experimental data are welcome; here, approaches should be model driven rather than purely statistical.

The programme will not provide funding for

  • the generation of experimental data,

  • studies with a primary focus on ecology,

  • studies with a primary focus on phylogeny.

Besides individual projects, joint proposals (involving typically two groups) are welcome. Proposals for an initial three-year funding period should be submitted in English language by

1 December 2011

marked with the reference code „SPP 1590/1“ to

  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft,
    Fachbereich Mathematik,
    Kennedyallee 40,
    53175 Bonn.

One paper copy (signed by all principal investigators (PIs) of the corresponding proposal) will be needed that contains as enclosures the scientific CVs of the applicants, of possible or intended scientific coworkers (if already available; especially in the case of postdoctoral researchers).

Furthermore, an electronic version of the proposal and of all the relevant enclosures should be enclosed in pdf-format also on a CD.

From the work programme within the proposal it should become clear which parts are assigned to which scientific coworker, especially which tasks should be fulfilled by PhD students or postdocs. In case of joint proposals the assignment of requested funds to the individual PIs should also become clear.

Please study carefully DFG’s new publication rules.

Further information

For additional information please refer to the programme’s website:

Guidelines and Proposal Preparation Instructions (form 1.02e) are available at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the coordinator of the Priority Programme:

For administrative enquiries please contact the responsible programme director at the DFG: