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Trends Ecol Evol. 2011 Aug;26(8):424-32. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2011.04.002. Epub 2011 May 14.

The contribution of statistical physics to evolutionary biology.

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I.S.T. Austria, A-3400 Klosterneuburg, Austria.


Evolutionary biology shares many concepts with statistical physics: both deal with populations, whether of molecules or organisms, and both seek to simplify evolution in very many dimensions. Often, methodologies have undergone parallel and independent development, as with stochastic methods in population genetics. Here, we discuss aspects of population genetics that have embraced methods from physics: non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, travelling waves and Monte-Carlo methods, among others, have been used to study polygenic evolution, rates of adaptation and range expansions. These applications indicate that evolutionary biology can further benefit from interactions with other areas of statistical physics; for example, by following the distribution of paths taken by a population through time.

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