Testing evolutionary theory: from genome to phenotype and back again

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Biology


What do we get from continuing to develop and test evolutionary theory? The picture of evolution we have inherited from the Modern Synthesis is a rich and varied one. We have a good understanding of the genetic inheritance of traits, an appreciation of the role of genetic drift in shaping molecular variation, and have increasingly been able to measure and observe natural selection in the wild. Our recent advances in theory and experiment have added considerable sophistication to our basic view of Darwinian evolution, highlighting the role of genetic constraints on evolution, indirect genetic effects and also conflicts of interest between individuals of the two sexes. But for all the tremendous successes of these developments, it has often been very hard to judge how important each one is in explaining variation in the organisms we see around us. Yet this is what we need to do if we wish to find more general patterns in how organisms adapt and evolve. The main stumbling block has been a lack of traits about which we know a lot about how natural selection should work; only with this information can we begin to ask to what extent is variation from the expected pattern explicable in terms of genetic constraints, sexual conflict and so on. I will use two traits where we do know how natural selection should be acting, sex allocation and female re-mating rate, as model systems to test the importance of aspects of current evolutionary theory. Using the sex ratio decisions of female parasitic wasps, I will explore how genetic architecture and opposing forces of natural selection influence adaptation. Using the mating behaviour of a promiscuous seed bug, I will explore how conflicts of interest between males and females over whether to mate influence other aspects of an organism's biology, such as how long they live, how many offspring they have, and how big they grow. With a mixture of genetic analysis and behavioural experiments in the field and in the laboratory, I will untangle how different evolutionary processes work, and estimate their importance quantitatively. The results will give us valuable insights into how important particular genetic and environmental factors are in limiting the extent to which animals adapt themselves to their surroundings.


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Shuker DM (2009) Sexual conflict, sex allocation and the genetic system. in Biology letters

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Shuker D (2010) Sexual selection: endless forms or tangled bank? in Animal Behaviour

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Rowntree JK (2011) Forward from the crossroads of ecology and evolution. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

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Ross L (2011) The evolution and suppression of male suicide under paternal genome elimination. in Evolution; international journal of organic evolution

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Ross L (2010) Genomic conflict in scale insects: the causes and consequences of bizarre genetic systems. in Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society

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Ross L (2009) Scale insects. in Current biology : CB

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Pannebakker BA (2010) The distribution of microsatellites in the Nasonia parasitoid wasp genome. in Insect molecular biology

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/D009979/1 01/01/2007 31/01/2009 £490,746
NE/D009979/2 Transfer NE/D009979/1 01/02/2009 30/06/2012 £312,954
Description We now know that adaptive sex allocation in Nasonia wasps is not associated with changes in gene expression, but is nonetheless highly polygenic.
Exploitation Route Many ways
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink