I’m interested in understanding in how natural selection, in combination with other evolutionary forces, creates the extraordinary diversity we see in nature. I’m also interested in how a knowledge of evolutionary processes can be used to address important societal challenges, such as preventing spread of agricultural pests and conserving biodiversity. We use three main approaches:
1. ‘Evolve and resequence’ experiments in beetle pests
I have recently been awarded a BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship to use experimental evolution and whole-genome sequencing to understand the genetic basis of thermal adaptation in red flour beetles. This work, in collaboration with Matt Gage at UEA, involves exposing beetle populations to different thermal regimes in the lab over many generations. Then, using whole-genome sequencing and archived samples, we aim to identify key genetic regions involved in adaptation to temperature, and observe how the genome evolves in response to natural selection, in real time.
2. Ecological genomics in wild bird populations
In collaboration with Jon Slate (Sheffield), Ben Sheldon (Oxford), Mirte Bosse and Marcel Visser (Wageningen) and others, I am using genomic approaches to understand evolutionary history and ecological adaptation in great tits (part of the ‘Great Tit HapMap project‘). Using thousands of samples, all genotyped at ~500K SNP markers, we are quantifying population structure, reconstructing evolutionary history, and identifying regions of the genome under selection in one of the most widely studied vertebrates in the world.
3. Candidate gene studies in island birds
With David Richardson and Claire Armstrong (UEA) and Juan Carlos Illera (Oviedo), I have been using neutral markers and candidate gene approaches to understand population history and adaptation in island bird species (Berthelot’s pipit, Seychelles warbler). We have largely focussed on key genes of the immune system (e.g. MHC, TLRs), but are now using genomic methods (exon capture) to understand adaptation at many functional gene classes. We aim to use information gained from genetic data to inform conservation.