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.



New paper by students from the Evolutionary Ecology research practical

Students Michelle Gygax and Ana Rentsch recently published a paper in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology in which they report the results of a project they conducted under the supervision of Dr. Diana Rennison during the 2016 Evolutionary Ecology research practical. They found that threespine sticklebacks raised in ponds with a predator (cutthroat trout) exhibited more lateral barring (stripes) than threespine sticklebacks raised in ponds without the predator. An increase in the presence of vertical barring was correlated with an increase in water clarity and littoral habitat use. These data provide experimental evidence to support the hypothesis that vertical barring has evolved in sticklebacks due to selection by visual predators for cryptic coloration in vegetated habitats.


Genetic coupling of female traits and female preference facilitates speciation

How are associations between traits under divergent selection and traits that contribute to assortative mating maintained in the face of gene flow during ecological speciation? In a new paper in Current Biology, Catherine Peichel, Dolph Schluter (University of British Columbia) and colleagues answer this question using a classic model of ecological speciation, sympatric benthic-limnetic sticklebacks. To allow for recombination between loci underlying assortative mating and those under divergent ecological selection, they assessed the mate choice of benthic-limnetic stickleback F2 hybrid females for wild benthic or limnetic males under natural conditions in ponds. Remarkably, F2 females chose males with a similar body shape and size to their own. Furthermore, genetic loci associated with F2 female mate choice also predicted F2 female morphology. These data provide empirical evidence to support the long-standing theoretical prediction that genetic coupling between assortative mating and traits under divergent selection can facilitate speciation in the face of gene flow.


PhD position available

A funded, 4-yr PhD position is available to work on a recently funded SNF project entitled "Chromosome evolution: molecular mechanisms and evolutionary consequences".

The aim of the project is to use genome sequencing and transcriptome data to characterize the diversity of sex chromosome systems found in the stickleback family to address the following questions: (1) What factors are associated with the transition between homomorphic and heteromorphic sex chromosomes?; (2) What mechanisms contribute to the maintenance of gene dosage on degenerate sex chromosomes?; (3) Do Y and W chromosomes have different evolutionary trajectories?

Candidates must be highly motivated and creative, able to work independently and collaboratively, have a strong background in evolutionary genetics, and have prior experience with the analyses of large genomic datasets. Previous experience with molecular cytogenetic methods is a plus. A masters degree is required to apply. The working language of our division is English.

Applicants must submit one merged PDF file that includes a letter of motivation, a CV, names of two referees who should have sent their recommendation letter separately by email before the deadline, and copies of relevant publications and/or masters thesis. Incomplete or late applications will not be considered. Please submit your application via email by 30 November 2017 to Prof. Catherine Peichel: catherine.peichel@iee.unibe.ch


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.



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