Evolutionary Ecology


I study evolution from a molecular perspective, with an aim to further our understanding of the genetic and ecological mechanisms that underlie rapid adaptation and speciation. Much of my work falls into two streams: visual ecology or eco-evolutionary genomics.

Vision is a particularly interesting trait to study because it has a well characterized genetic basis, and is likely under strong natural and sexual selection in many systems. I am interested in understanding how visual systems evolve in novel spectral environments. My work has shown that substantial evolution of the visual system can occur on very short time scales and that adaptation of the visual system involves changes in opsin gene sequence, repertoire and expression.

Biotic agents of natural selection (e.g. predators, competitors, symbiants) are thought to play an important role in diversification. However, we have little idea about the imposed selective landscapes or evolutionary responses to these agents. I use field studies and manipulative experiments to disentangle the contributions of such biotic agents to observed patterns of divergence. My experimental work has revealed the importance of differential predation in driving phenotypic and genomic diversification. My fieldwork has indicated that the gut-microbiome may be involved in an eco-evolutionary response to resource competition.

More recently I have turned to large-scale population genomic analyses to further elucidate the genetic and ecological factors that influence evolutionary trajectories. My postdoctoral work tests whether pleiotropy is a source of evolutionary constraint that underlies the predictability of evolutionary responses.

Veen T, Brock C, Rennison DJ, Bolnick D. Plasticity contributes to fine-scale depth gradient in sticklebacks’ visual system. Molecular Ecology, In Press.

Samuk KM, Owens GL, Delmore KE, Miller SE, Rennison DJ, Schluter D. Gene flow and selection interact to promote adaptive divergence in regions of low recombination. Molecular Ecology, In Press.
Owens GL, Rennison DJ (2017) Evolutionary ecology of opsin gene sequence, expression and repertoire. Molecular Ecology 26: 1207-1210.
Rennison DJ, Owens GL, Heckman N, Schluter D, Veen T (2016) Rapid evolution of colour vision in the threespine stickleback adaptive radiation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283: 20160242.
Rudman SM, Heavyside J, Rennison DJ, Schluter D (2016) Piscivore addition causes a trophic cascade within and across ecosystem boundaries. Oikos 125: 1782-1789.
Miller SE, Samuk KM, Rennison DJ (2016) An experimental test of predation’s effect upon behaviour and trait correlations in threespine stickleback. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 119: 117-125. 
Rennison DJ, Heilbron KA, Barrett RDH, Schluter D (2015) Discriminating selection on lateral plate phenotype and its underlying gene, Ectodysplasin, in threespine stickleback. American Naturalist 185: 150-156.
Andrew R, Albert AYK, Renaut S, Rennison DJ, Bock D, Vines TH (2015) Assessing the reproducibility of discriminant function analyses. PeerJ 3: e1137. 
Seehausen O, Butlin RK, Keller I, Wagner CE, Boughman JW, Hohenlohe PA, Peichel CL, Saetre G-P, Bank C, Brannstrom A, Brelsford A, Clarkson C, Eroukhmanoff F, Feder JL, Fischer M, Foote AD, Franchini P, Jiggins CD, Jones FC, Lindholm AK, Lucek K, Maan ME, Marques DA, Martin SH, Matthews B, Meier JI, Most M, Nachman MW, Nonaka E, Rennison DJ, Schwarzer J, Watson ET, Westram AM, Widmer A (2014) Genomics and the origin of species. Nature Reviews Genetics 15: 176-192. 
Vines TH, Albert AYK, Andrew RL, Debarre F, Bock DG, Franklin MT, Gilbert KJ, Moore J-S, Renaut S, Rennison DJ (2014) The availability of research data declines rapidly with article age. Current Biology 24: 1-4.
Vines TH, Andrew RL, Bock DG, Franklin MT, Gilbert KJ, Kane NC, Moore J-S, Moyers, BT, Renaut S, Rennison DJ, Veen T, Yeaman S (2013) Mandated archiving greatly improves access to research data. FASEB J 27: 1304-1308.
Rennison DJ, Owens GL, Taylor JS (2012) Opsin gene duplication and divergence in ray-finned fish. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 62: 986-1008. 
Owens GL, Rennison DJ, Allison WT, Taylor JS (2012) In the four-eyed fish (Anableps anableps), the regions of the retina exposed to aquatic and aerial light do not express the same set of opsin genes. Biology Letters 8: 86-89.
Gilbert KJ, Andrew RL, Bock DG, Franklin MT, Kane NC, Moore J-S, Moyers BT, Renaut S, Rennison DJ, Veen T, Vines TH (2012) Recommendations for utilizing and reporting population genetic analysis: the reproducibility of genetic clustering using the program STRUCTURE. Molecular Ecology 21: 4925-4930.
Rennison DJ, Owens GL, Allison WT, Taylor JS (2011) Intra-retinal variation of opsin gene expression in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata). Journal of Experimental Biology 214: 3248-3254.
Windsor DJ, Owens GL (2009) The opsin repertoire of Jenynsia onca: A new perspective on gene duplication and divergence in livebearers. BMC Research Notes 2: 159.
Owens GL, Windsor DJ, Mui J, Taylor JS (2009) A fish eye out of water: Ten visual opsins in the four-eyed fish, Anableps anableps. PLoS One 4:  e5970.
2016 – Present
University of Bern, Institute of Ecology and Evolution
Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of Evolutionary Ecology.
Research: Genomic sources of evolutionary constraint.
Supervisor: Catherine L. Peichel PhD
2011 – 2016
University of British Columbia, Biodiversity Research Centre
Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Zoology
Research: Detecting the drivers of divergence: identifying and estimating natural selection in threespine stickleback.
Supervisor: Dolph Schluter PhD
2008 – 2010
University of Victoria
Masters of Science, Department of Biology,
Research: Spatial characterization of visual opsin gene expression in the guppy.
Supervisor: John S. Taylor PhD
2004 – 2008
University of Victoria
Bachelors of Science Honours, Department of Biology,
Research: Opsin gene duplication and divergence in Trinidadian guppies.
Supervisor: John S. Taylor PhD