Evolution is a historical science, unique from most branches of biology in that the processes responsible for generating biodiversity have acted across almost unimaginable periods of time, often precluding direct experimental investigation. While this makes the study of evolution particularly challenging, an understanding of the evolutionary process is essential in all branches of biology. Our lab integrates studies at a wide range of both temporal and spatial scales in an attempt to identify general factors responsible for the generation of natural biodiversity in marine systems. We are interested in the origin of species, how evolutionary pressures drive population divergence and may ultimately lead to speciation.
Our research focuses primarily on the study of the evolution of reproductive complexity in aquatic environments. We study a number of different freshwater and marine model systems using a combination of field, laboratory and experimental approaches to investigate how selective pressures contribute to the evolution of reproductive variation across space and time. Studies on the reproductive dynamics of natural populations are complemented by experimental work in a large marine husbandry facility in which we can explore the importance of subtle environmental variation on reproductive dynamics. Our work on extant populations of marine fishes is complemented by the analysis of historical collections, providing a means to determine how changing environments have influenced organismal evolution across the past century, a period during which aquatic environments have experienced significant warming.
In addition to our work on the reproductive ecology of natural populations of aquatic organisms, we are using next-generation molecular tools to study the evolution of reproductive complexity across longer timescales, capitalizing on the remarkable diversity of aquatic animals. As part of this work, we have developed a microarray for syngnathid fishes, a tool that is currently being used to investigate the evolution of male pregnancy in this group. The development of high-throughput genomic tools for the syngnathid system opens the door for the unification of our ecological and evolutionary research programs, providing the means to address questions related to the functional basis of morphological, reproductive and ecological variation among populations and species.