• Header of Evolution at Transmitting Science

Advanced Courses on Life Sciences

Live Online Course – 7th Edition

Mapping Trait Evolution

May 20th-31st, 2024

Live sessions will be recorded

Mapping Trait Evolution

The course provides a comprehensive overview of the state-of-the-art methods in mapping phenotypic trait evolution and will provide participants with a springboard to using these methods to answering their own research questions.

We focus on analyses that use a phylogenetic tree and observed trait information from tip taxa (extant and/or extinct) to describe how traits have changed along the branches of a phylogeny. The course covers methods that estimate and test patterns related to changes in mean, covariation, and rate. Applications for continuous and categorical, and univariate and multivariate research designs are discussed.

At the end of this course, participants will have developed an understanding of:

(1) Brownian motion and Ornstein-Uhlenbeck models of evolution.

(2) How these models can be applied to estimate and test patterns of trait evolution.

(3) What the advantages and disadvantages are of different models/methods.

(4) How to recognize which model/method is most appropriate given a particular dataset and research question.

We provide several data sets that will be used to exemplify the application of these methods. We do, however, encourage participants to work with their own data so as to get direct experience with analysing precisely what they expect to analyse.

Methods from the following R packages will be discussed: ape, geiger, phytools, evomap, l1ou, bayou, surface, OUwie, mvMORPH, geomorph (this list may change as new packages become available).

Important note: Please bear in mind that this course is not about reconstructing (building) phylogenetic trees; the methods we cover in this course assume that the phylogeny is known.

  • Phylogenetic data.
    • What is the basic structure of phylogenetic data?
    • How to visualize and manipulate phylogenetic data?
  • Models of evolution.
    • What are models of evolution?
    • What are the assumptions of the different models of evolution?
    • How are models of evolution utilized?
  • Phylogenetic regression.
    •  Assumptions, properties, and applications of the phylogenetic regression.
  • Phylogenetic ancova.
    • Testing for grade shifts using the phylogenetic regression.
  • Ancestral estimation.
    • Using models of evolution to estimate values of ancestral nodes.
  • Analysis of rates of evolution.
    • Estimation of rates of evolution.
    • Testing hypothesis about rates of evolution.
  • Inferring the structure of a macroevolutionary landscape.
    • Using Ornstein-Uhlenbeck models to map macroevolutionary patterns.
  • Testing the structure of a macroevolutionary landscape.
    • Applications and assumptions of OU models.
    • Using OU models to test macroevolutionary hypotheses.

R packages that will be used during the course: ape, Geiger, bayou, phylolm, surface, OUwie, mvMORPH, nlme, caper, evomap, phytools, motmot, geiger, ape, evomap, BayesTraits.

Graduate or postgraduate degree in any Biosciences discipline. Knowledge of multivariate statistics.

A reminder of R-skills that are of particular relevance when applying phylogenetic comparative methods will be given the first day, though a medium level of R knowledge is needed for following the course (i.e. knowledge on how to load and save data, manipulate data frames, use basic plotting functions, and use functions to analyse data).

Participants must have a personal computer (Windows, Mac, Linux). The use of a webcam and headphones is strongly recommended, and a good internet connection is necessary.

Jeroen B. Smaers instructor for Transmitting Science

Dr. Jeroen B. Smaers
Stony Brook University
United States of America

Dates & Schedule

Online live sessions on 20th, 23rd, 27th, 29th, 31st of May

14:00-18:00 (Madrid time zone)

Total course hours: 35

20 hours of online live lessons, plus 15 hours of  participants working on their own.

This course is equivalent to 1 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) at the Life Science Zurich Graduate School.

The recognition of ECTS by other institutions depends on each university or school.



This course will be delivered live online

This course will be taught using a combination of live (synchronous) sessions on Zoom and tasks to be completed in between live sessions on the Slack platform.

Live sessions will be recorded. Recordings will be made available to participants for a limited period of time. However, attendance to the live sessions is required.


Places are limited to 16 participants and will be occupied by strict registration order.

Participants who have completed the course will receive a certificate at the end.

Haris Saslis instructor for Transmitting Science

Dr. Haris Saslis
Transmitting Science

Fees & Discounts

  • Course Fee
  • Early bird (until March 31st, 2024):
  • 485 €
    (388 € for Ambassador Institutions)
  • Regular (after March 31st, 2024):
  • 560 €
    (448 € for Ambassador Institutions)
  • Prices include VAT.
    After registration you will receive confirmation of your acceptance on the course.
    Payment is not required during registration.

We offer discounts on the Course Fee.

Discounts are not cumulative. Participants receive the highest appropriate discount.

We also offer the possibility of paying in two instalments. Please contact us to request this.

Former participants of Transmitting Science courses receive a 5% discount on the Course Fee.

20% discount on the Course Fee is offered to members of certain organisations (Ambassador Institutions). If you wish to apply for this discount, please indicate it in the Registration form (proof will be asked later). If you would like your institution to become a Transmitting Science Ambassador Institution, please contact us at communication@transmittingscience.com

Unemployed scientists, as well as PhD students without any grant or scholarship to develop their PhD, can benefit from a 40% discount on the Course Fee. This applies only to participants based in Spain. If you wish to ask for this discount, please contact us. The discount may apply for a maximum of 2 places, which will be covered by strict registration order.


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