Uncovering how complex phenotypes evolveApr 3rdpale_line

In a new paper published in Science Advances, we present the results of almost 10 years of research aiming to reveal the genetic basis of a novel suite of traits – a syndrome – in common wall lizards. This ‘nigriventris syndrome’ is named after the subspecies that was described, and it includes characteristic coloration (most notably green and black), behavior (dominant and aggressive) and morphology (e.g., large body and head). In a series of papers, we have previously established the origin and introgressive spread of this sexually selected syndrome (e.g., here, here and here).

In the new paper, we identify genetic regions of major effect with structural variation. Moreover, we provide evidence that genes that regulate neural crest cell behaviour are associated with the syndrome. For a popular science summary that explains why we are excited about these results, you can check out this blog post (coming soon!).

Tobias becomes a Wallenberg fellow!Apr 2ndpale_line

The aim of the Wallenberg Scholar program is to ensure that Sweden’s leading scientists can focus on the really big questions. For the next five years, Tobias and his team will explore the genetic and developmental basis of evolvability, and how organisms can become better at evolving. Get in touch if you want to join us!

New paper generalizes link between plasticity and evolvabilityMar 26thpale_line

Lisandro’s and Tobias’ latest paper in PNAS show that representing development as a dynamical process provides a theoretical framework to predict when different genetic and environmental perturbations result in similar phenotypes. This framework can be used to predict genetic evolution using information of plasticity, and to accelerate evolution in a preferred direction. These results generalize previous findings from the lab (e.g., here and here), and indicate that an exciting avenue for future research on how variation is generated will not focus on the specific identity of (e.g., genetic) elements, but rather on how those elements participate in the dynamical process that builds phenotypes!

Nathalie is selected for the Lise Meitner Excellence Program!Mar 26th

The Lise Meitner Excellence Program is an initiative from the Max-Planck Society that aims to recruit outstanding early career scientists. We are very happy to announce that Nathalie was selected for this program! She will start her research group on Evolutionary Diversification and Innovation at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in September. We look forward to contributing to the MPI of Evolutionary Biology, and of course to make Plön and Germany (as well as Lund) a hotspot for lizard evolution. Get in touch if you want to work with us!

20 years after West-Eberhard’s Developmental Plasticity and EvolutionMar 20th

In 2003, Mary-Jane West-Eberhard published her magnum opus Developmental Plasticity and Evolution. In a special issue in the Journal of Experimental Biology, we used its 20-year anniversary to explore how Mary-Jane’s ideas have been incorporated into evolutionary thinking. Although current research on plasticity-led evolution seemingly has assimilated West-Eberhard’s arguments, we argue that this body of work largely fails to take on board the central role she envisaged for developmental processes in evolution. We use an evolvability-inspired perspective to show how we can do things differently. If you want to know more, you should dive into our paper.

Money for the sand lizardsNov 12th

Thanks to a generous grant from FORMAS, the sand lizards in Sweden will be the subject of a new conservation project. A team led by Tobias and joined by Nathalie, Mats Olsson from Gothenburg University and Mette Lillie from Uppsala University will map out the genetic diversity of sand lizards across Sweden. Due to their patchy distribution and loss of sandy habitat, the species is potentially at risk and we will do our very best to work together with conservation agencies and protect this unique species.

Congratulations on your new position!Sept 15thpale_line

After just about one year with us in Lund, Jana Isanta-Navarro has landed a lectureship position in Copenhagen! Huge congratulations! We are sad to see you go, but also excited to see you start your own research group and take the next step in your career! Team algea (and also team lizard!) will miss you. Good luck for the future, and hopefully you stop by in Lund from time to time on your way to Copenhagen!

Ximena = Master of Science!July 28thpale_line

Ximena has successfully defended her MSc thesis in the MEME program and is now ready for new challenges! During her thesis work, she investigated how living on tiny islets affects the genomic make-up of Mediterranean wall lizards. She not only managed to tame a huge genetic data set, but also learned how to capture lizards in the wild! We are excited to see what comes next for you, Ximena! Good luck for your next steps – it was a pleasure to have you around!


Maternal behaviour facilitated transitions to viviparityJuly 14thpale_line

A new paper in Evolution Letters shows that flexible maternal thermoregulation eliminated constraints on the evolution of viviparity in lizards and snakes. Thanks a lot to all our collaborators – Charlie, Dan and Geoff – for making this happen!

Ragna = Master of Science!June 15thpale_line

After a stellar defence of her thesis on plasticity in green algae, Ragna could celebrate in style. We are very sad to see her go – all the best of luck with future algae growing, Ragna!



Lizard field season 2023!June 15thpale_line

Our three field teams had a great time catching lizards in the Balearics, Morocco, Italy, and Greece. Beautiful locations, fantastic lizards, and great company – thanks to Ferran de la Cruz, Geoff While and all our local collaborators for their help and support!

Ivan joins us!Apr 2ndpale_line

Right in time for the field season, Ivan Prates is joining our group with the mission to unlock some secrets from the Mediterranean wall lizards regarding their deep evolutionary history. Ivan will apply the skills in biogeography that he acquired on Australian skinks, South American Anolis and other herps to our wallies. Ivan came straight from the US and after just one week of stop-over in Lund, he headed straight to Greece where he spent 2 month with his new study object. Welcome Ivan, we hope that you’ll enjoy Lund as much as you’ve enjoyed field work in Greece!

Welcome Ragna and XimenaMar 6thpale_line

We are very happy to have two new MSc students joining us this spring. Ragna will be working with Jana and Tobias on plasticity in green algae, and Ximena’s project with Nathalie and Tobias aims to understand loss of genetic diversity in island lizards. Big welcome to both!

Evolution in SwedenJan 14th

The whole team made it to the 2023 Evolution in Sweden. Uppsala was the host this time, and the organisers had done a great job to make us feel comfy despite dreadful weather. It was nice to see old friends, make some new ones, and see what people are up to. As it happens, nobody learnt what we are up to since none of us had submitted a talk! We bet next time will be very different… Best talk? Magne Friberg and his plants!


Conference on coloration Dec 10thpale_line

The TiBE conference on ‘The Biology of Colour‘ was an excellent excuse for Javier, Roberto and Nathalie to escape the grey-in-grey of the Swedish winter and dive into the world of coloration research for two days. The conference, organized by our friends at the CiBIO in Portugal, did not only attract light-starved researchers from the North, since close to 200 participants showed up. Perhaps not surprising since the conference program covered everything from hardcore genetics to the biomechanics of structural coloration and behavioural ecology – a smorgasbord with something for everyone! Javier did a great job in presenting his first results on the coloration ‘syndrome’ of the Catalan wall lizard – more coming soon!

Two new group members!Nov 29thpale_line

We welcome Quentin Horta-Lacueva and Lisandro Milocco to Lund! Switching from Icelandic fish to Mediterranean lizards, Quentin joins the wall lizard project with a project on the evolvability of skull morphology. Lisandro joins us from Helsinki. He brings his theoretical skills to help us understand how the evolution of plasticity shapes the capacity to adapt – theory that we will be put to the test on green algae.

Roberto has arrived!Aug 29thpale_line

Roberto García-Roa joins us on a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship to study the evolution of colouration in wall lizards. It is hard to imagine a better research agenda for a photographer like Roberto – and it is perhaps equally hard to imagine a better study system than wall lizards! Welcome to Lund Roberto!

Jana joins us!Aug 1stpale_line

We are very happy that Jana Isanta-Navarro joins our new evolvability project, a collaboration with Charlie Cornwallis. Jana brings her expertise in freshwater ecology to investigate the relationship between phenotypic plasticity and evolvability in microalgae. This will be a lot of fun – thanks for joining us and welcome Jana!


We are recruiting!Jul 30thpale_line

We have two vacant positions in our group. One is a 3-year postdoc position on evolutionary genomics (apply here) and one is a permanent position as project assistant (apply here).

Deadline for application is Sep 1.

If you have questions, just email us (!

Miguel’s view of the world out now!Jul 26thpale_line

What do you do when existing concepts are not enough? There is plenty of interest in plasticity and extra-genetic inheritance: grants are awarded, papers and books are published. Yet, the structure of evolutionary theory seems to relegate not just these phenomena – but all ‘proximate’ mechanisms – to ‘add-ons’ to genes and natural selection. The result is frustration, both among those who want more and those who want less. Is there a way out?

Our new paper in BioEssays begins not with evolution but with development. It looks for a representation that does development justice without imposing causal asymmetries and privileges from the outset. This perspective – the Miguel Brun-Usan’s view – introduces subtle differences in what plasticity and extra-genetic inheritance means; conceptual differences that – we argue – can make it easier to grasp the explanatory role of development in the evolutionary process. For an illustration of the kinds of questions this perspective can inspire, see here.

Back to the field!Jun 5thpale_line

It’s been three long years, but when we finally returned to the Mediterranean we did it properly! Over six weeks, we visited many beautiful locations, were amazed by the lizards, caught up with old friends and made new ones. Thanks to everyone for helping out – we hope to see you again next year!

If you want to get an impression of what wall lizard field work in the Mediterranean is like, click here.


DNA methylation is inherited in water fleasMay 15thpale_line

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.

Diamond project completed!Mar 10thpale_line

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.


New paper reveals why plasticity promotes evolvabilityDec 20thpale_line

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.

For more on plasticity and genotype-phenotype maps, see our new paper in collaboration with Luis-Miguel Chevin and others, and our recent work here and here.

VR-grant to Tobias and his scaly friends in the MediterraneanNov 8thpale_line

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.

Postdoc position on evolvability! Oct 30thpale_line

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 (

Wall lizard evolution revealed!Oct 24thpale_line

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.

Dynamic Daphnia gut microbiomes!Oct 16thpale_line

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 are recruiting!Sept 16thpale_line

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 (!

We are back in office – and welcome new group members!Sept 16thpale_line

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!

Getting ready for an international research program (again!) June 16thpale_line

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!

Anolis morphospace trilogy completed June 23rdpale_line

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.

Rampant introgression in Mediterranean wall lizards May 18thpale_line

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!

Climate causes a geographic mosaic of colour ornamentationMay 9th pale_line

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.

New paper on Anolis evolutionMarch 9thpale_line

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.


PhD position availableDec 8thpale_line

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 ( for more information on the project and our research group!

Advert and how to apply can be found here!

Congratulations Dr Hegg!!!Nov 27th

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.

Alex nails his thesis!Nov 20thpale_line

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!

Nathalie receives VR Establishment Grant!Oct 29thpale_line

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!!

Out Now: Philosophy of Science for BiologistsOct 16thpale_line

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.

New paper throws doubt on a popular ideaOct 9thpale_line

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.

Nathalie is awarded an ERC Starting Grant!!!Sept 4thpale_line

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!

A major blow to the ’plasticity-first’ hypothesis?Aug 17thpale_line

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.

Does evolution go where plasticity leads?June 15thpale_line

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.

New paper on wall lizard hybrid zones in EvolutionMay 21stpale_line

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.

Tobias is elected to the Royal Physiographic SocietyMay 7thpale_line

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.

How to fit in: The learning principles of cell differentiationApr 27thpale_line

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.

Field work cancelledMar 17thpale_line

The coronavirus prevents the big Mediterranean field season that Nathalie, Tobias and Geoff had planned. But the lizards won’t go anywhere – we look forward to visiting them next year!

New paper in theme issue on George Price’s legacyMar 2ndpale_line

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.

Nematodes get from lizard mums to the brains of their offspringJan 23thpale_line

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.

Lund invades Tjärnö Marine Biology Station!Jan 17thpale_line

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!


Robin defends his thesis!Dec 16thpale_line

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!!

Goodbye Hanna!Nov 1stpale_line

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!!

Wall lizards on repeatOct 11thpale_line

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…

Evolution on repeatOct 10thpale_line

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 Abalos joins us until Christmas!Oct 1stpale_line

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!

Developmental plasticity and evolutionary explanationsOct 1stpale_line

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.

Miguel Brun-Usan joins the group!Sept 2ndpale_line

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!

Happy World Lizard DayAug 14thpale_line

Happy World Lizard Day everyone! Uller group celebrated with Swedish fika and some lizard cake. And of course with a lot of talk about lizards!

Transposable elements unleashedAug 13thpale_line

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…

Hot off the press!Aug 12thpale_line

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…

Keeping track of what is newJuly 22ndpale_line

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 can take the lead in adaptive evolutionJuly 20thpale_line

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…

Introducing maternal effectsJuly 1stpale_line

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.

It is time to say goodbye…June 7thpale_line

… 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…

Summer cottage getawayJune 3rdpale_line

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…

Geoff While visitingApril 7thpale_line

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!

Ullergroup at Evolution EvolvingApril 6thpale_line

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.

How adaptive plasticity evolves when selected againstMarch 12thpale_line

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…

Solved: the genetics of colour polymorphism in wall lizardsMarch 1stpale_line

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 MacLeod joins us!Jan 17thpale_line

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!

Origin of the Welsh wall lizards now settledJan 4thpale_line

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.


A new take on the epigenetic signatures of prenatal stressDec 12thpale_line

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…

Developmental Bias and Evolution at Santa FeNov 20thpale_line

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…

Another bad day for anticipatory maternal effectsNov 20thpale_line

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…

Sexual selection moves genes from one lineage to anotherSept 20thpale_line

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.

Workshop on the origins of individualitySept 8thpale_line

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 Zug joins us!Sept 7thpale_line

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!

Review of Extended HereditySept 5thpale_line

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.

Developmental Bias and EvolutionJune 30thpale_line

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 Pettersen joins the group!June 24thpale_line

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!

New papers on thermal biology of reptile embryosMay 28thpale_line

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…

Anolis symposium in MiamiApril 4thpale_line

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…

New papers

  • Adaptive introgression reveals the genetic basis of a sexually selected syndrome in wall lizards Science Advances 10:14
  • Utilizing developmental dynamics for evolutionary prediction and control PNAS 121:14
  • Twenty Years of Developmental Plasticity and Evolution: On middle range theories and how to test them.  JEB 227: jeb246375
  • The relative impact of parental and current environment on plant transcriptomes depends on type of stress and genotype. ProcB 290:2007
  • Maternal behavioral thermoregulation facilitated evolutionary transitions from egg laying to live birth. Evolution Letters 7:5
  • Beyond genotype-phenotype maps: Toward a phenotype-centered perspective on evolution. BioEssays 44:9
  • Environmentally induced DNA methylation is inherited across generations in an aquatic keystone species. iScience 25:5
  • A single locus regulates a female-limited color pattern polymorphism in a reptile. Sci Adv 8:10
  • Development and selective grain make plasticity ‘take the lead’ in adaptive evolution. BMC Ecol Evo, 21, 205
  • Population genomics of wall lizards reflects the dynamic history of the Mediterranean Basin. Mol Biol Evol, in press
  • Using phenotypic plasticity to understand the structure and evolution of the genotype–phenotype map. Genetica, in press
  • A highly conserved ontogenetic limb allometry and its evolutionary significance in the adaptive radiation of Anolis lizards. ProcB 288:20210226
  • Extensive introgression and mosaic genomes of Mediterranean endemic lizards. Nat Commun 12:2762
  • Climate shapes the geographic distribution and introgressive spread of colour ornamentation in common wall lizards. Am Nat, in press
  • Evolution of the locomotor skeleton in Anolis lizards reflects the interplay between ecological opportunity and phylogenetic inertia. Nat Commun, 12:1525
  • Plasticity and evolutionary convergence in the locomotor skeleton of Greater Antillean Anolis lizards. eLife, 9:e57468
  • Spatial variation in gene flow across a hybrid zone reveals causes of reproductive isolation and asymmetric introgression in wall lizards. Evolution, 74:1289-1300
  • Vertical transmission of a nematode from female lizards to the brains of their offspring. Am Nat, 195:918-926
  • Enhanced locomotor performance on familiar surfaces is uncoupled from morphological plasticity in Anolis lizards. J Exp Zool Part A, 2020:1-11
  • Evolutionary lability in Hox cluster structure and gene expression in Anolis lizards. Evol Lett, 3:474-484
  • Lizards possess the most complete tetrapod Hox gene repertoire despite pervasive structural changes in Hox clusters. Evol Dev, 21:218-228
  • Asymmetric paralog evolution between the “cryptic” gene Bmp16 and its well-studied sister genes Bmp2 and Bmp4Sci Rep, 9:3136
  • Plastic responses to novel environments are biased towards phenotype dimensions with high additive genetic variation. PNAS, 116:13452-13461
  • Regulatory changes in pterin and carotenoid genes underlie balanced color polymorphisms in the wall lizard. PNAS, 116:5633-5642
  • Linking life‐history theory and metabolic theory explains the offspring size‐temperature relationship. Ecol Lett, 22:518-526
  • Selective survival of embryos can explain DNA methylation signatures of adverse prenatal environments. Cell Rep, 25:2660-2667