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.


PhD position open

A funded, 4-yr PhD position is available within the Division of Evolutionary Ecology as early as February 2022 to work on a recently funded SNF project to study the evolutionary forces that act on inversions as well as the genetic mechanisms by which inversions affect phenotypic evolution and adaptation in stickleback fish. The aim of the PhD project is to identify the phenotypic effects of inversions that are segregating in natural populations of threespine stickleback fish, using a combination of association mapping in wild Swiss populations and genetic mapping in controlled laboratory crosses. The project will involve fieldwork, phenotypic analyses (e.g. morphology, physiology, behavior, parasites) of large numbers of fish, PCR genotyping, fish husbandry, CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, and genetic analyses.

Candidates must be highly motivated and creative, able to work independently and collaboratively, have a strong background in evolutionary genetics and molecular biology, and a willingness to work with live fish. Experience in fieldwork, morphological, physiological, and/or behavioral analyses is a plus. Candidates must have excellent written and spoken communication skills in English, which is the working language of our institute. A masters degree is required. This position is open to applicants worldwide. We are committed to increasing diversity, equity and inclusiveness in evolutionary biology and especially encourage applications from underrepresented groups.

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 1 December 2021 to Prof. Catherine Peichel: catherine.peichel@iee.unibe.ch

Introduction to Genetic Analysis

Katie Peichel is an author on the new edition of the Introduction to Genetic Analysis textbook

The 12th edition of the Introduction to Genetic Analysis textbook has just been released. Katie Peichel revised and updated the chapters on Genetics and Genomics, Developmental Genetics, Chromosomal Changes, and Evolution. She added content on next-generation sequencing methods and analyses, as well as an evolutionary perspective on genetic analyses in non-traditional model organisms throughout these chapters. Katie was honoured to be an author on the same textbook (5th edition) she used as an undergraduate studying genetics at UC Berkeley many years ago!


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.


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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