Skip directly to content

National Evolutionary Synthesis Center

Sub Type:
Research Areas:
NSF Award:

National Evolutionary Synthesis Center  (Duke University)

Research Focus

The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) promotes the synthesis of knowledge and concepts to address significant, emerging or new questions in evolutionary science and its applications. It supports research and education across disciplinary, institutional, geographic and demographic boundaries. Two examples of its research are 1) a study of the consequences of removing or relaxing natural selection and why certain traits persist and 2) an analysis of the 60-year-old Framingham Heart Study to better understand change in modern human populations.

The center's initiatives include Dryad, a digital data repository for work in evolutionary biology. Dryad enables scientists to validate published findings, explore new analysis methodologies, re-purpose data for new questions and synthesize data.

The center is jointly operated by Duke University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.

Research Outcomes

One study of 50 million year-old cricket and katydid fossils traced the evolution of the insect ear, showing how insects have evolved ears at least 17 times in different lineages. Another study determined that certain drought-resistant grasses harvest energy from the sun in a way that works more efficiently in hot, arid conditions. Still another examined the growing evidence that noise created by humans is bad for birds, and that some species are harder hit than others--in particular, bigger birds with low-frequency songs.

Center scientists also examine evolution and evolutionary processes as they apply to other areas, including the social sciences, economics and literature, to name a few.

Education & Outreach

Education and outreach efforts include the Darwin Day Roadshow, which is a way for the center's scientists and educators to share their enthusiasm for evolutionary science with students, teachers and the general public in various locations each year on the occasion of Charles Darwin’s birthday (February 12th).

The center's additional education and outreach initiatives include curriculum resources, a summer workshop and Evolution in the News podcasts


Visit Web Site 



  • Photo of red/green leaves with water drops on them
One of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center's studies looked at how quickly plants can adapt to climate change.