Deep in tropical jungles around the world are birds with a dizzying array of appearances and mating displays—from pheasants with 3D feathers to moonwalking manakins—traits that seem disconnected from selection for individual survival. Culminating 30 years of fieldwork, Richard Prum, the Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and a world-renowned ornithologist, revives Darwin’s long-neglected theory of sexual selection in which the act of choosing a mate for purely aesthetic reasons—for the mere pleasure of it—is an independent engine of evolutionary change. Sharing from his latest work, The Evolution of Beauty, Prum presents a unique scientific vision for how nature’s splendor contributes to a more complete understanding of evolution and of ourselves in a conversation with evolutionary biologist Amy Parish.
Richard O. Prum is William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology at Yale University, and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. He has conducted field work throughout the world, and has studied fossil theropod dinosaurs in China. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010.
Amy Parish is a biological anthropologist, primatologist, and Darwinian feminist who has taught at University of Southern California in the gender studies, arts and letters,anthropology, and preventive medicine programs and departments since 1999. Dr. Parish has been studying the world’s captive population of bonobos for the last twenty years. In all of her research, Dr. Parish uses an evolutionary approach to shed light on the origins of human behavior. Her work has been featured in Ms. Magazine and she has appeared on Nova, National Geographic Explorer, NPR, and Discovery Health Channel productions.