Research

My research mainly focuses on understanding the proximate and ultimate mechanisms underlying the origin of biodiversity and adaptation in natural systems. Using a wide range of organisms and techniques, I want to understand i) how organisms rapidly adapt to different environments and ii) the functional genomic basis of adaptive phenotypic traits. To address these questions I integrate a range of approaches in my work, ranging from ecology and development to population genomics and functional genomics:

  • Eco-morphological patterns of diversification in natural systems
  • The genomic basis of adaptive traits
  • The evolution of genomic architectures across space and time
  • Demographic histories underlying diversification
  • Role of gene regulatory evolution

I mostly focus on ecologically diverse systems and/or species of conservation concern, to better understand how the biodiversity around us has evolved, from the population level to individual diverse phenotypic traits. Thereby I try to create better knowledge of the world, which will hopefully help protect the species around us.

My current postdoc work at Cornell is using the Atlantic silverside, a small estuarine fish distributed along the North American Atlantic coast, as a study system to better understand the paradox of how marine species can adapt to different environments without obvious barriers to gene flow. To do this, I am investigating the population genomic and functional genomic basis underlying the rapid phenotypic divergence along the steep climatic gradient along the Atlantic coast despite strong gene flow.

During my PhD and previous postdoc at the University of Glasgow, I studied the population genomic and regulatory mechanisms underlying the parallel and rapid evolution of specialised ecotypes in multiple salmonid species using an integrative and comparative approach.

Additionally, I am involved in a range of collaborative projects to better understand how great tits, a small passerine bird, has adapted to urban environments across Europe.

See below for a more detailed description of my ongoing and previous research:


The genomic basis of local adaptation and countergradient selection in the face of gene flow along a climatic gradient in a estuarine species, the Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia). 

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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)

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The genomic footprints of adaptation to urban environments in great tits (Parus major).

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Integrative analysis of parallel evolution in Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus).

Arctic charr is one of the most diverse vertebrate species and has repeatedly evolved diverse ecotypes across lakes in the northern hemisphere, including in lakes 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.

Despite numerous studies investigating the ecological and phenotypic adaptation to different trophic niches and habitats, we only know little about how phenotypically parallel these ecotypes actually are across lakes and if ecotypes have evolved in the same way across lakes or used different evolutionary and genomic routes. These are the major questions I aim to answer with my research, which will improve our understanding of how flexible evolution is and give us more insights into the evolution of biodiversity.


The role of gene expression and post-transcriptional processes in parallel ecotype evolution.  

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

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

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