Research

My research focuses on understanding the proximate and ultimate mechanisms underlying the origin of biodiversity and adaptive divergence in natural systems. Using a range of different organisms and analytical approaches, I mainly want to understand the evolutionary processes by which organisms rapidly adapt to different environments and the functional genomic basis of adaptive phenotypic traits.

I address these questions by integrating different approaches, ranging from ecology to developmental biology, to population and functional genomics, to investigate:

  • Phenotypic patterns associated with rapid and repeated ecological divergence
  • Processes shaping the genomic landscape of divergence
  • The genomic basis of adaptive phenotypes
  • Gene regulatory changes underlying adaptive phenotypes
  • The interplay of genotype and environment in adaptive phenotypic divergence

My research is mostly driven by exciting natural history observations and I aim to generate a better basic understanding of the evolutionary processes and associated functional mechanisms that create the wonderful biodiversity we see around us. Although I am mainly interested in fishes and other aquatic organisms, I also venture out and collaborate with a range of people to study adaptive processes in birds and other vertebrates.

Below is an overview of my main research interests and projects:


The genomic basis of local adaptation under strong gene flow. Using an ecological model organism, the Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia), I am trying to understand how species can adapt to distinct environmental conditions in the face of strong gene flow. The Atlantic silverside is a small estuarine species that is distributed along of the steepest temperature clines in the world along the North American Atlantic coast.

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Atlantic silversides | Distribution of Atlantic silverside along the East coast of North America and examples of clinal trait variation (from common garden experiment; Hice et al. 2012)

 


Rapid adaptation to urban environments in great tits (Parus major).

 

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Understanding the loss of parasitism in an ancient vertebrate, the lamprey.

 

 

 


Integrative analysis of rapid and parallel evolution in Arctic charr. 

Arctic charr is one of the most diverse vertebrate species and has repeatedly evolved diverse ecotypes across lakes in the northern hemisphere, including in Scotland and Siberia. These ecotypes include benthic-feeding specialists (‘benthivorous’) occupying the littoral-profundal habitat, plankton-feeding specialists (‘planktivorous’) living in the open water, fish-feeding specialists (‘piscivorous’).

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Examples of Arctic charr ecotypes | a. Benthivorous and planktivorous ecotypes from Scotland. b. Planktivorous and piscivorous ecotypes from Siberia. (not to scale)

Despite numerous studies investigating the ecological and phenotypic adaptation to different trophic niches and habitats, we still have a limited understanding about the extent of phenotypic parallelism in this species and how replicated ecotypes have evolved.

Integrating ecological, phenotypic, population genomic and gene expression data I aim to understand i) how replicated ecotypes have evolved, ii) if parallel genomic and functional changes underly parallel evolution and iii) what determines or constrains the extent of parallel phenotypic and genomic evolution. Together, this will provide us with a better understanding of the repeatability of evolution, allowing us to better predict evolutionary responses in the face of environmental change.

Using this integrated approach, we investigated the evolution of of replicated ecotype pairs within the Atlantic lineage of Arctic charr (Scottish lakes) and the Siberian lineage (Transbaikalian lakes), as well as across these two distinct evolutionary lineages. Overall, we found varying levels of phenotypic parallelism across populations that could be explained by variation in evolutionary history, environmental stochasticity and variation in molecular responses. The results can be found here.

 


Conservation genomics of salmonid fishes.

The functional and genomic basis of rapid ecological and phenotypic re-expansion in European whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus) from Lake Constance.

 

 

The evolutionary history and genomic basis of a rare piscivorous brown trout (Salmo trutta) ecotype, the ferox trout.