Water fleas are famously able to adapt to environmental stressors. Could epigenetic inheritance play a role? Our new study in iScience suggests it might. Using whole-genome bisulfite sequencing, we show that environmentally induced DNA methylation is enriched in exons, targets genes specific to the stressor, and has high fidelity of inheritance. Now we can put the role of this epigenetic inheritance in adaptive evolution to the test. The history of this paper begins about ten years ago… Click here if you want to read the full story.
Our study on the developmental basis of the diamond pattern polymorphism in the brown anole is now published in Science Advances. This has been one of our favorite pet-projects and was the basis for Robin’s MSc project. The question that intrigued us was how such a complex pattern could be regulated by a simple genetic architecture. Using a combined approach of genetic mapping, gene expression analyses and a computational model of pattern formation we managed to nail this question! If you’re curious, read the details here.
PS: If you’re looking for postdoc opportunities to expand on this topic, just get in touch with us.
Our latest theory paper demonstrates why selection for plasticity plays a dominant role for the evolution of the genotype-phenotype map. The work – headed by Miguel – helps to understand how biological systems acquire their genetic evolvability, and why plasticity often will appear to ‘take the lead’ in adaptive evolution.
Thanks to a new research grant from the Swedish Research Council, we will be able to follow up our recent work on the entangled evolutionary history of Mediterranean wall lizards. This time we will try to reveal if and how admixture fueled the extraordinary diversification of colouration. If you are keen to join the effort, please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss opportunities.
We’re looking for someone keen to study the evolution of evolvability using microalgae. The project will test recent theory on the relationship between plasticity and the evolution of genotype-phenotype maps – for some background see here, here and here.
You tick all the right boxes if you have a deep interest in evolution, experience of working with single-celled organisms, experimental evolution, and analysing various –omics data. However, what you do not yet know you can learn – so don’t hesitate to apply if you tick a few of those boxes!
The project is a collaboration with Charlie Cornwallis and is part of a large international network of theoretical and experimental biologists, computer scientists, and philosophers of science. You’ll be joining a vibrant research environment at Lund University, with plenty of opportunities to develop new skills and take your work to new heights. Funding is initially available for three years – but we of course hope this is just the beginning! Any questions about the project or the application, please do not hesitate to email Tobias (email@example.com).
A new paper in Molecular Biology & Evolution unravels the evolutionary history of our favorite wall lizard Podarcis muralis. The paper is the result of lots of help from our friends and collaborators, all pulled together by Yang. For wall lizard aficionados, there are a few gems – really old splits! hybrid origins! extinctions! – that again show how interesting these lizards are. The rest of you may simply marvel at how the geological and climatic history of the Mediterranean basin has shaped the diversification and range expansion of our European fauna.
A new paper from Alex’s PhD thesis reveals a striking seasonal variation in the gut microbiome of water fleas. Using a clever field experiment, Alex could follow changes in the gut microbiome from spring to summer. The microbiomes change consistently with the environment, but differences in microbiome diversity and composition between genotypes under natural conditions appear vanishingly small.
We have three vacant positions in our group: two researcher positions on Nathalie’s ERC-funded project EvoOnRepeat (here and here), and one postdoc position on the evo-devo of transposable elements. And the best is that all projects are on lizards! So if you have done your PhD in developmental biology or genome evolution, are not afraid of tackling big questions, and think that Sweden is a nice place to live, then do apply! If you have questions, just email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
After a nice summer break we are now happy to be back at work – this time even in real life. We are also happy to welcome two new people to our group. Javier Ábalos joins us from Valencia, where he recently completed a PhD thesis on colour polymorphism in wall lizards. Javier’s expertise in animal behaviour and colouration will now be put to use to solve the mystery of the repeated evolution of the ‘green package’ in wall lizards. Corin Stansfield joins us from Glasgow on an Erasmus scholarship. Corin’s project will take on the evolutionary developmental biology of a female-linked colour polymorphism in Anolis lizards. Welcome to both of you!
Big congrats to Tobias for being awarded a Templeton grant as part of the new funding initiative ’Science of Purpose’. A large team of scientists, led by the philosopher Alan Love, will explore the causes and evolutionary consequences of organismal agency and goal-directedness. Together with Charlie Cornwallis and Richard Watson, we will develop models of evolvability and venture into the world of unicellular green algae to put these models to the test experimentally.
Celebratory ice cream well deserved!
After our two previous papers on the macroevolution of Anolis lizards (see here and here), the third chapter of this project is now out in Proc B. We tested if the patterns of evolutionary diversification of limb morphology follows ‘lines of least developmental resistance’. Or, put simple: does what grows together also evolve together? Although this might seem intuitive, we did not find any evidence that developmental growth patterns bias evolutionary trajectories. Instead, we found that species-specific differences to a large extent are already evident when the limb anlagen first emerge, and that subsequent embryonic growth patterns are extremely conserved between Anolis species. Overall, these results suggest that evolutionary diversification of limb morphology has not followed the ontogenetic growth trajectory of limb bones, but is the result of modifications of developmental processes that act during early developmental stages.
A new paper in Nature Communications shows that wall lizards isolated from each other for millions of years have found each other and shared genes. By comparing DNA sequences from 34 major lineages, Yang and Nathalie could reveal that some species – like those on the Balearic Islands – derive from ancient hybridization events. Their genomes are really mosaics, with equal contribution from each parental lineage, but extensive introgression between species has been a pervasive feature throughout wall lizard evolution. The results also provide insights into how major events in the Mediterranean, like the Messinian Salinity Crises, have contributed to lineage diversification. For a popular summary, please see here.
These results open up many opportunities for further study. Did admixture contribute to the extraordinary phenotypic diversification of some species? How do hybrid genomes evolve? Are there general patterns of introgression, and can introgressed alleles be tied to adaptive trait evolution? How does reproductive isolation evolve? If you are interested in taking on any of these questions – or others – please do not hesitate to get in touch!
Why do some species vary so much in colouration from one population to another? A new paper in the American Naturalist shows that this can sometimes be explained by climatic effects on sexual selection. Mara’s first thesis chapter is the latest of our efforts to unravel the evolutionary origin and spread of sexual ornamentation in wall lizards. Using data from 114 populations, we show that ornamentation closely tracks climatic regimes, both within its lineage-of-origin as well as during introgression. These results help to explain the extraordinary colour variation in common wall lizards across the Italian landscape, something that has puzzled naturalists for well over a century.
Do episodes of adaptive radiation influence the capacity for evolution in the descendent lineages? Does the colonization of islands – with their ecological opportunities – affect the mode and speed by which novel forms are generated? If you would like to get a lizards eye’s perspective on these and other macroevolutionary questions, you should read our new paper in Nature Communications. Using hundreds of Anolis skeletons, Nathalie and Illiam have uncovered that the colonization of Caribbean islands had long-lasting effects on evolutionary trends of hundreds of species. Read more here.
Are you interested in Evo-Devo and looking for a PhD? Nathalie is now recruiting for her new project on the developmental basis of parallel evolution in wall lizards. Please contact her (email@example.com) for more information on the project and our research group!
Advert and how to apply can be found here!
Alex successfully defended his thesis this Friday in front of a big online crowd – and a small dedicated one IRL. Many thanks to the opponent, Blake Matthews, and the committee for their engaging and interesting discussion. The committee was particularly impressed with the combination of lab and field studies, and we can only agree. Most chapters are in review and will hopefully appear soon enough – if you can’t wait, Alex’s thesis can be found here.
Here it is! Alex’s thesis Adaptive and non-adaptive responses to toxin-producing cyanobacteria in water fleas is officially out. Following the Lund tradition, Alex nailed his thesis to the old tree trunk in the Ecology Building, where it can now be admired by everyone. Following the new corona tradition, the audience followed the action via zoom, but the achievement was still duly celebrated with a glass of whisky. Next up is the viva – Friday the 27th!
They keep on coming!!! First ERC, and now the Swedish Research Council! Nathalie’s new establishment grant runs for four years, and means further expansion into the world of diversification and parallel evolution in wall lizards. Many congratulations, Nathalie!!
It has been difficult for biologists to navigate their way into the bewildering literature on philosophy of science. This new book, edited by Tobias and Kostas Kampourakis, should make that easier. We hope that the book will be inspiring for students and academics across biology – we’ll begin by putting it to the test in a PhD course here at Lund.
If the lizards in your garden have either red, yellow or white throats, it just seems that those colours must signal something. One of the most popular ideas is that they represent alternative mating tactics, or different social strategies. A new paper from a collaborative project with our friends from Spain and France throws doubt on this explanation for the colour polymorphism in common wall lizards. Read more here.
Yes!!!!!!! We are extremely happy to announce that Nathalie has been awarded one of the biggest and most prestigious grants in Europe. Fully funded for five years, her research is set to expand our understanding of the developmental causes of parallel evolution. And, yes, it is all on wall lizards!!! Take note if you are looking for PhD or postdocs positions at the interface of genomics, developmental and evolutionary biology – this is your chance to take it to the next level!
Skeletal morphology is a classic candidate for ‘plasticity-led’ evolution. Mary-Jane West-Eberhard and Jonathan Losos have both suggested that the adaptive radiation of Anolis ecomorphs on the Greater Antillean islands is one example. It does seem rather intuitive, but there has been no attempt to put this idea to the test. But now our new paper in eLife by Nathalie and co-workers does exactly that. And it shows that developmental plasticity is in fact very unlikely to have been important to ecomorph evolution. Read more here.
Mary-Jane West-Eberhard famously suggested that plasticity ‘takes the lead’ in adaptive evolution. But how can you tell if you are not there to see it happen? In a new paper in Evolution Letters, we show one way to tackle the problem – here is a quick summary of what we did and what we found.
Remember the introgression of sexually selected colours in wall lizards? If not, see here and here. In our new paper in Evolution, we show that this genomic introgression is only asymmetric where the colours exist – when both lineages are dull, they exchange genes in equal amounts.
Yang’s and Nathalie’s work is further evidence that competition between males is responsible for asymmetric introgression of traits and genes. They also show that there are some interesting signatures of reproductive isolation in the genome. Overall, we seem to have caught speciation in the act – these lineages have a leaky reproductive barrier where behavioural interactions can both promote and limit gene flow.
Founded in 1772, the Royal Physiographic Society of Lund is an academy for the natural sciences, medicine and technology. Fondly known as Fysiografen, the society organizes symposia, recognizes scientific achievements through prizes and medals, and supports research through several grant schemes.
In a new paper published in PLoS Computational Biology, Miguel Brun-Usan and colleagues have explored how plastic, developing cells can “know” where and how to differentiate. Given that cells are equipped with genetic networks, could they benefit from some form of basic learning, as cognitive systems do with neural networks? Using a series of elegant models, Miguel shows that yes, differentiating cells can indeed exhibit basic learning capabilities that enable them to acquire the right cell fate. If you want to know how far the analogy between developing and learning can be stretched, you can find the answer in the paper, or explained in a blog post on the EES webpage.
A new paper by Tobias and Heikki Helanterä explains how different perspectives on heredity motivates researchers to go to the Price Equation. Read the paper and the other contributions to this theme issue in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.
Sometimes your study organism guides you into scientific territory that you wouldn’t have dreamed of entering. When Nathalie discovered nematodes in the brains of lizard embryos, this was the start for our brief excursion into the world of nematology. We teamed up with experts in this field and together we could show what appears to be the first evidence that nematodes can get from mums to offspring through the amniote egg. This really seems to be how this nematode lives its life. The results are now online at the American Naturalist. Read more about our discovery here.
The 2020 Evolution in Sweden meeting took place in beautiful Bohuslän, at the marine biology station of the University of Gothenburg. Lund was well represented as usual, and our own group sent no less than seven delegates. Two days were filled with talks covering a range of evolutionary biology and many different organisms. Robin, Nathalie, and Miguel gave great talks that exposed everyone else to a healthy bit of evo-devo. It is always really nice to see our colleagues from around Sweden – many thanks to everyone at Tjärnö for making us feel so welcome! Looking forward to Uppsala 2022!
After a fantastic year, the time had come for Robin to defend his MSc thesis. And as he did it! After a wonderful presentation on why understanding development holds the key to understand evolution, he effortlessly explained and discussed his work on the diamond patterning of Anolis lizards. Many congratulations, Robin!!
After more than four years in Lund, Hanna has been summoned back to Helsinki and the Natural History Museum. As coordinator, she will keep track of both the collection and the scientists, tasks that we are sure her time in Lund has prepared her for very well! Hanna has been an highly valued colleague and friend and we are extremely sad to see her go. All the best of luck, Hanna, we hope to see you soon again!!
The Tage Erlander Symposium was followed by a wall lizard workshop, an event that is now becoming a bit of a tradition. Our friends and colleagues from southern Europe joined us for a day full of interesting talks and discussion of future plans. We are happy to announce that – thanks to the Tage Erlander Prize – our wall lizard project will now go comparative with the aim to reveal the developmental basis of the parallel evolution of exaggerated sexual characters. So many lizards, so little time…
The Tage Erlander Symposium Evolution on Repeat took place on Thursday, Oct 10th. We are very grateful to all the invited speakers and participants for making it such an enjoyable event! We are also grateful to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the Tage Erlander Prize that made the whole event possible.
Javier is visiting from Valencia where he is doing a PhD under the supervision of Enrique Font, Pau Carazo and Guillem Perez I de Lanuza. In addition to generating and analysing paternity for hundreds of wall lizard babies, he aims to finish a paper or two and spend many hours watching seals. Welcome Javier!
Our new paper in Evolution & Development tries to explain why the role of plasticity in evolution is contentious – can plasticity really explain why adaptive evolution happens or is it an unnecessary add-on to genes and natural selection? To understand why people come to different conclusions, we took a closer look at how biologists make use of idealizations to deliver evolutionary explanations. We also reflect on what makes some explanations better than others. We think the analysis is quite helpful, hopefully others will agree – click here to read the paper.
We are very happy that Miguel joins us in Lund after finishing his postdoc in Richard Watson’s group at Southampton. Miguel will extend our previous collaborative work on evolvability and also embark on a new project that brings mechanistic models to an empirical project headed by Nathalie Feiner. Welcome Miguel!
Transposable elements are DNA sequences that move around in the genome. Do they also play any roles in evolution and development? Nathalie answered this question by looking at our favourite group of animals – lizards – and found some surprising answers. Her most recent paper in Evolution Letters is the last of a trilogy of papers – here, here, and here – that reveal that Anolis lizards, by breaking the rules, allow us to link TEs to speciation and evolvability. Read more…
Our book Evolutionary Causation has arrived! It not only looks great, but it also features some really original and exciting ideas by fantastic people. Thanks to all the authors and to the KLI and the MIT Press for making it happen. Interested in the content? Read more…
A great way to keep track of interesting research on development and evolution, inclusive inheritance, and much more is to follow our international research program on social media. Lynn Chiu is the new media and communication officer and she will tweet, blog and more to promote exciting research in evolutionary biology and philosophy of biology.
Plasticity-led evolution would be likely if the trait combinations induced by novel environments harbour more than their fair share of genetic variation. Our new paper in PNAS shows that this is in fact quite common. For a nice overview, see this post by Luis-Miguel Chevin on F1000. Dan Noble and Reinder Radersma collected data from studies that quantified traits and their additive genetic covariance in animals and plants exposed to novel environments. On the whole, the multivariate phenotypic change caused by environmental change were well aligned with the maximum genetic variation – and better than expected by chance. Read more…
Feel confused about maternal effects? Don’t worry, you are not alone. This new annotated bibliography from Oxford University Press by Tobias will help navigate the literature. Its entries provide starting points for exploring the role of maternal effects in evolutionary biology – from partitioning of phenotypic variance to the evolution of inheritance. We hope you will find it useful.
… to Reinder and Alfredo. As the EES grant comes to a close, we are sad to see some of our friends move on, but excited about the opportunities they have created for themselves. Reinder is now a researcher in statistical genetics at Wageningen University & Research Institute, which is THE place to be for agriculture, environmental and food science. His work on maternal effects, plasticity and evolvability will undoubtedly prove useful also to domesticated plants and animals. Read more…
All visitors to Sweden should experience that summer cottage feeling! Accordingly, the group packed their thermal underwear, swim trunks, shorts and rain coats and headed to Tobias’ family’s cottage in Värmland. All outfits came to good use since we had typical Swedish summer weather – blue sky followed by rain, and then glorious weather when we had to leave. Just like every year. Read more…
We are very happy to have Geoff While from the University of Tasmania visiting us for three months. Geoff is a fantastic friend and collaborator whose scientific drive, passion for biology, and lizard catching skills are nearly impossible to beat. In addition to the usual wall lizard field season, we have a few old projects to finish off, some that are in full swing, and perhaps one or two new ones to launch. Not to mention all the other things you could get done over a beer or two. Welcome Geoff!
The Evolution Evolving at Cambridge was packed with three days of exciting talks – from culture in whales to control theory and the philosophy of explanation. The crew from Lund felt like lizards in the sun – pretty comfy and happy! So much in fact that Alfredo won the prize for best talk, and Illiam the prize for best poster. Congratulations to both! We are very grateful to our fellow organisers and all the participants for making this such a great event. A full conference report will be posted in due time at the EES webpage, together with recordings of plenaries and key notes. They were brilliant! Until then, you can see what you missed at #evoevolving and #EES_Update.
Yes, that is the surprise title of Alfredo’s new paper in PLoS Computation Biology! When we discover examples of adaptive plasticity we usually think that it evolved because selection favoured it. But can adaptive plasticity evolve when selection favours non-plastic individuals? Think of a population of insects that hatches, reproduces and dies twice every year: once in spring and once in autumn. Spring and autumn conditions may be very different, but plasticity could allow the insects to cope with both seasons. Yet, insects born in spring never experience autumn, and vice versa, so natural selection cannot directly favour plasticity. In fact, plastic individuals may do worse than individuals that are not plastic, which means plasticity could consistently be selected against. This problem is similar to tuning the learning rate in Machine Learning. Read more…
A new paper in PNAS reveals that the orange and yellow ventral colour morphs in wall lizards is caused by regulatory changes in pterin and carotenoid genes. Interestingly, it seems like the alleles are old and occasionally shared between species. Miguel Carneiro and his team at CIBIO and Leif Andersson at Uppsala led the work, and we helped with the genome, samples, and other bits and pieces. The chromosome-scale genome assembly is of high quality and should become a useful resource – so just get in touch if you want to know if the wallies are right for you too!
Kirsty joins us on a Marie Curie Fellowship, with the aim to understand how the social environment mediates the effects of prenatal stress. The work will be done in our favourite social lizards – the Egernia. It will help us understand if and how parental care can eliminate negative effects of prenatal stress. Kirsty’s research will also allow us to test if maternal effects contribute to the stability of social systems in these lizards. Her project is a collaboration with Tony Williams at Simon Fraser University, and Geoff While at the University of Tasmania. Welcome Kirsty!
The sole Welsh population of common wall lizards is located on the Gower peninsula. Its origin has been unknown, but we have now established that they come from the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy. This is also the origin of some of the English populations, but the Welsh population is most likely a primary introduction. That lizards of Italian origin have established a breeding population in Wales demonstrates the adaptability of these little guys. You can read the report in the Herpetological Bulletin.
The conditions encountered in the womb can have life-long impact on health. It is usually assumed that this is because embryos respond to adverse conditions by programming their gene expression. In collaboration with Bas Heijmans and others, we propose that these effects also can be caused by selection on stochastic epigenetic variation. The paper is published in Cell Reports and there is also a press release. The concept of fetal programming is based on the idea that embryos modify their physiology in response to the uterine environment. Read more…
The third and final workshop funded by our EES grant took on the role of developmental bias in evolution. Like the meeting in February, Santa Fe greeted us with snow, jetlag, and huevos rancheros for breakfast. The workshop showcased the extraordinary breadth of approaches used to understand if, and how, developmental processes direct evolution. Ecologists, developmental biologists, and palaeontologists explained what data are out there and what they mean. Theoretical biologists and computer scientists convincingly showed that the role of development not only can be formulated in precise terms, but that there are predictions ready to be tested. Read more…
A new study on water fleas, headed by Reinder and Alex, suggests that a classic example of adaptive maternal effects is not as adaptive as we might have thought. Some years ago, Tobias, Sinead and Shinichi did a meta-analysis that seemed to undermine the idea that maternal effects are designed to transfer information about the local environment. Reviewers and editors did not really want to hear that, and the paper proved somewhat difficult to publish (but has been well received and cited). But one ‘anticipatory maternal effects’ appeared well supported: water fleas exposed to toxic cyanobacteria produced offspring that were more tolerant to the toxin. Read more…
We have previously shown that male-male competition causes introgression of a suite of sexually selected characters between two lineages of common wall lizards. A new study headed by Yang – published in Molecular Ecology – reveals that about 3% of the genome has moved in the same direction. Interesting, Yang’s analysis shows that this asymmetric gene flow is more recent than the secondary contact itself. What appears to have happened is that the sexually selected characters originated within the Italian lineage quite recently. They then spread northwards, eventually reaching the Ligurian coast and the contact zone with the lizards from western Europe, where they continued to give males a competitive advantage. The next steps are to figure out how this suite of characters arose in the first place, how the characters are kept together as they introgress, and what – if anything – that limits their spread across the landscape.
The evolutionary process is itself evolving. Perhaps the best example is the origin of new reproductive organizations that are capable of evolving by natural selection. Single celled organisms evolved into multicellular organisms, some of which – leaf cutter ants, for example – appear to have evolved into collectives that deserve the label superorganism.
Last week our group hosted a small workshop to bring together researchers that use different approaches to tackle how and why such transitions in individuality happens. The aim was to share insights from projects within our Templeton-funded grant, and to spread ideas to local Lund researchers. Read more…
Roman is a theoretical biologist with a PhD from the Humboldt University in Berlin. His PhD research, supervised by Peter Hammerstein, focused on the evolutionary dynamics of symbionts. Now on a DFG fellowship, Roman will explore the evolution of developmental systems that produce discrete phenotypes in different environments – also known as polyphenisms. Welcome to Lund Roman!
Russell Bonduriansky’s and Troy Day’s recent book Extended Heredity explores how changing heredity concepts influence how evolutionary biologists think about evolution, and how we may go about generating and testing predictions. The book has been very well received – including our review in Evolution and another in Science. Russell and Troy discuss some of the more contentious parts in this blog post.
A recurrent theme in evolutionary biology is to contrast natural selection and developmental constraint – two forces pitted against each other as competing explanations for organismal form. A recent Perspective in the journal Genetics explains why this juxtaposition is deeply misleading. There is also a blog about the paper here. Read more…
Amanda joins us from Monash University, where she recently completed her PhD under the supervision of Dustin Marshall. Amanda’s PhD thesis explored how metabolic theory can inform microevolutionary patterns of life history variation. Abandoning her marine invertebrates for wall lizards – but keeping her interest in thermal biology – Amanda will now take on the challenge to understand how lizard embryos adapt to the cold. Welcome Amanda!
Most reptiles lay eggs in sand or soil, under logs or in rock crevices. These are places where the temperature often fluctuates, sometimes becoming dangerously high or low. The pervasive effects of temperature on biological systems begs the question how embryos respond in the short term, and how populations adapt in the long term. This question is now thoroughly explored in a theme issue of the Journal of Experimental Zoology, with contributions from our group. Read more…
The organizers had chosen an appropriate setting for the 2018 Anolis symposium – sunny Miami, Florida, at the Fairchild Botanical Garden that ‘hosts’ six Anolis species. Since Nathalie was working at the museum collection of the University of Florida, she took the opportunity to join for two days of Anolis fun. The meeting was the fifth of its kind, with the first taking place already in 1972. That is an average of one meeting every 9th year! Not very frequent, but it means the symposium already is a classic event. The program was full, but the organizers had scheduled long coffee and lunch breaks to make sure there was enough time to explore the Botanical Garden, in particular to meet our scaly friends, of course. Read more about the sunny trip…
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- A single locus regulates a female-limited color pattern polymorphism in a reptile. Sci Adv 8:10
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- Population genomics of wall lizards reflects the dynamic history of the Mediterranean Basin. Mol Biol Evol, in press
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