Genetic and genomic basis of adaptation and speciation in sticklebacks

What are the genetic and genomic changes that underlie phenotypic evolution? How do these changes lead to adaptation to new environments and the formation of new species? Although these questions are of longstanding interest to evolutionary biologists, until recently they have been intractable, particularly in vertebrate species. In order to address these questions, we are using the threespine stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus) as a model system. In particular, we have investigated the genetic mechanisms that underlie morphological, behavioral, and physiological traits that differ between stickleback populations that have adapted to divergent habitats. I will discuss how these studies in my lab and others have provided novel insight into long-standing questions about the genetic and genomic architecture that underlies rapid and repeated adaptation to divergent environments.
My laboratory has been particularly interested in the genetic basis of behavioral evolution, particularly in social grouping behavior. The formation of social groups is prevalent across the animal kingdom, but can vary dramatically within and among species. One dramatic example of social grouping behavior is found in shoals and schools of fish. We have developed novel assays and analytical methods to study the genetic basis of shoaling and schooling. Using our “model school assay”, we have demonstrated that sticklebacks adapted to different habitats have heritable and genetically unlinked differences in the two key components of schooling behavior: the tendency to school and coordination of body position when schooling. Using transgenic methods, we have demonstrated that variation in the Eda gene contributes to variation in both the lateral line neurosensory system and the ability of sticklebacks to school. Together, these experiments have provided mechanistic insight into how and why fish form schools and identified one of the first genes known to shape behavior in an evolutionary context.

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Speaker Catherine Peichel, University of Bern
Time Wednesday | January 18, 2017 | 12:30pm - 01:30pm
Location Cafeteria, I22 Lakeside View