Using fish as model systems, we take advantage of intraspecific variation (differences between populations of a single species) to study the evolution of the mechanisms that allow animals to respond to a changing environment.
Current Projects in the Laboratory include:
1. Thermal adaptation in common killifish Common killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus) are found in estuaries and shallow water environments along the East Coast of Canada and the United States. There is a steep thermal gradient along this coast such that populations in Nova Scotia experience environmental temperatures that are more than 10°C lower, on average, than those experienced by populations in Florida. Associated with these thermal differences, there are differences in behaviour, morphology and physiology among these populations which are consistent with adaptation to their local habitat temperatures. Our experiments are designed to investigate the role of changes in gene expression in altering the thermal optima and preferences of fish from different populations, and to understand the mechanistic basis of these differences. We use a combination of population genetics, molecular physiology, and biochemistry to address these questions.
2. Conservation genomics of Rainbow Trout Rainbow Trout are a north-temperate zone species native to freshwater habitats on the West Coast of North America. This species requires clean, cool water to thrive, but local human activities (e.g., land use change, pollution) and the effects of climate change are altering freshwater habitats and posing severe challenges for Rainbow Trout. In this multi-investigator project, we are using a combination of conservation genomics, quantitative genetics and conservation physiology to characterize patterns of genetic variation among Rainbow Trout populations and associate this variation with habitat variation. Using hatchery-reared Rainbow Trout we are also working to identify genetic variants that are associated with differences in vulnerability to a range of climate-change relevant stressors. Together this work will allow us to identify appropriate units for conservation and management of wild trout and provide advice to fisheries managers for the selection of optimal strains of Rainbow Trout for stocking in the face of a changing environment.
3. Epigenomics in stickleback Threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) are found in both freshwater and marine environments throughout the northern hemisphere. In many streams in British Columbia freshwater resident stickleback and anadromous stickleback come into contact, resulting in the formation of hybrid zones between these two forms. Stream and anadromous populations have highly divergent life histories; the stream fish remain stream-residents year round while the andaromous fish migrate from the sea to fresh water for the purpose of reproduction. This anadromous migration brings with it a number of potential stressors in the form of changes in salinity, temperature, and predation and requires marine fish to undertake an energetically costly long-distance migration.
There have been many studies identifying the genetic basis of local adaptation in this species, but much less is known about the potential for epigenetic variation in allowing these fish to colonize novel environments. We are using molecular, biochemical, genomic, and physiological approaches, combined with studies of the epigenome to begin to understand the role of epigenetic changes in the response to environmental change.
For an up to date list of publications from my group, see my google scholar profile