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What is the genetic basis of adaptation to highly variable ecosystems?

Species living in rapidly fluctuating environments often harbor genetic variation that is both beneficial and deleterious on a habitat dependent basis. In this context, species can rapidly evolve to track the shifting fitness landscape (i.e., adaptive tracking) and maintain adaptive genetic variation. These discoveries have been transformative to population genetics, as it invites us to critically re-examine the commonly held notion that evolution is a slow process dominated by neutral mutations. Yet, across many taxa, we still have a limited understanding of the candidate loci and phenotypes underlying adaptive tracking, as well as the ecological drivers of this process, its effects on genetic diversity, or the levels of parallelism among populations exposed to similar ecological stressors. To tackle this knowledge gap, our work combines tools from statistical and evolutionary genomics as well as computational biology.

Evolutionary genomics of rapid adaptation in worldwide fly populations: Characterizing adaptive tracking in seasonal environments

Rapid evolution is ubiquitous in nature and allows adaptation to occur in few generations. Yet, we still lack a rigorous understanding of the circumstances and mechanisms governing this process. Fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) living in temperate regions experience strong fluctuations in the strength and direction of selection due to seasonality and evolve rapidly to track the changing fitness landscape. Consequentially, seasonally adaptive tracking represents a natural laboratory in which to understand whether rapid evolution is a repeatable and predictable process. In my current project I use the largest genomic datasets for natural propulations of Drosophila, DEST (https://dest.bio),  to investigate the patterns of adaptive variation and demography  in natural of D. melanogaster flies exposed to seasonally varying selection. This work seeks ot provide insights to about the consequences of rapid evolution in natural populations as a result of anthropogenic climate change, agricultural practices.

Learn more about the fruit fly work by watching some videos from previous talks or conference below:

Fruit Flies

Fruit Flies

Fruit Flies
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Talk Evolution 2022

Talk Evolution 2022

12:38
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JCB Nunez's DrosEU 2021 Talk

JCB Nunez's DrosEU 2021 Talk

16:37
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Ecological and evolutionary genomics of the northern acorn barnacle across ocean basins: Characterizing adaptive tracking in intertidal environments

My work leverages  the biology of the northern acorn barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides) to as two questions: first, how functional genetic variation is maintained in highly heterogeneous environments. And, second, whether adaptations to environmental heterogeneity is fueled by young alleles that constantly enter the population but fail to establish in the long term, or rather, by old alleles that are maintained over long evolutionary timescales.

This project in the media

Barnacles offer genetic clues on how organisms adapt to changing environments

By Phoebe Hall, Assistant Director of BioMedical Communications, Division of Biology and Medicine

Learn more about the barnacle work by watching some videos from previous talks or conference below: