I am broadly interested in evolutionary ecology, particularly how the environment and developmental processes affect evolution. Different forms of phenotypic plasticity are therefore reoccurring in my work. My previous work focused mainly on how genes affect (social) behavior and the other way around. I am now broadening my scope into the exciting fields of developmental plasticity and epigenetics. I am rounding-up a project on maternal effects in Daphnia and start to work on the importance of developmental bias in evolution.
The relative importance of development bias in evolution
In the traditional framework of evolution, mutations are regarded as the ultimate source of genetic variation and natural selection as the filtering process determining which variants are conserved for future generations and which are not. Effects of the environment as well as developmental processes on the way genotypes translate to phenotypes are regarded random and not affecting evolution. However, the developmental system organisms are subject to is also shaped by evolution, therefore the way genes and the environment affect the phenotype are coordinated and can be directional and even functional. The evolutionary trajectory a species takes is therefore affected by development. This developmental bias is often marginalized as anecdotal. In this project we will use meta-analysis to investigate how widespread developmental bias is, whether cryptic genetic variation – which is released in novel environments – is non-random and how phenotypic plasticity plays a role in these processes.
The transgenerational tolerance of Daphnias to cyanobacteria
When exposed to cyanobacteria, Daphnias are known to build up resistance to microcystin – a toxin produced by cyanobacteria – over (clonal) generations. This could be a positive maternal effect in which mothers prepare their offspring to the environment they will encounter, by for instance adding particular proteins to the eggs. However, a toxic environment also affects the growth of mothers, which ultimately affects the amount of resources they can provide to their offspring and therefore the offspring’s fitness. In this project we investigate the interplay between those two (positive and negative) maternal effects. We investigate the effect of different levels of toxicity on different genotypes and life phases. As part of this project we also test whether DNA methylation can act as a mechanism of inheritance for this resistance to microcystin.
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