Titleimage: Evolutionary Ecology

The Division of Evolutionary Ecology is focused on the genetic and molecular mechanisms that underlie ecological and evolutionary processes. Our main model system is a small fish called the threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). These fish have adapted to a variety of marine and freshwater habitats across the Northern hemisphere and consequently evolved incredible diversity in their behaviors, morphologies and life histories in a relatively short evolutionary time scale. The development of genetic and genomic tools for these fish has allowed us to identify specific genetic and molecular changes that underlie phenotypic diversity.

Current research in the Division of Evolutionary Ecology is focused on the genetic and genomic basis of adaptation and speciation, the genetic and neural basis of behavioral evolution, and the evolution of sex chromosomes.


Evolutionary Ecology and Aquatic Ecology

David Marques and Katie Peichel collaborated on a comprehensive review of the lessons learned about the genetic and molecular basis of phenotypic diversity using stickleback fish as a model system. These studies in sticklebacks have provided answers to long-standing questions about the effect sizes and genomic distribution of mutations involved in adaptation, the role of regulatory mutations in phenotypic evolution, and the genetic and molecular basis of repeated phenotypic evolution. This review was published in a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society on “Evo-devo in the genomics era, and the origins of morphological diversity”.


New Head of Division Evolutionary Ecology

Prof Dr Catherine (Katie) Peichel is excited to join the IEE as a new Professor and Head of the Division Evolutionary Ecology as of August 1. Katie is a geneticist with interests in the genetic and genomic changes that underlie phenotypic evolution, including adaptation, sex chromosome evolution, behavior and speciation. Before joining the IEE, Katie led a research group at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and was an Affiliate Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington.



Schooling is a fascinating behavior that has long drawn the attention of behavioral biologists, neurobiologists, computational biologists, evolutionary biologists, and now geneticists. In this study published in Genetics, Anna Greenwood and colleagues in the Peichel group used a model school assay and transgenic approaches to show that natural variation in schooling behavior between two populations of threespine sticklebacks is caused by the gene Ectodysplasin. This work provides a rare example of a genetic change that underlies the evolution of vertebrate behavior in the wild.