About our research

Welcome to a world of evolutionary biology!

Our lab focuses on integrating behaviour, genetics and physiology using molecular tools and field biology to study as complete scenarios of trait evolution (such as colour signals) as we believe possible. We make sure to identify the appropriate model system necessary for a seamless project outline taking us from exciting field projects, where ongoing selection can be studied in free-ranging animals, to explicit deciphering of molecular and biochemical mechanisms in the laboratory. In most cases, this has led us to using reptiles and amphibians as model systems.

This is because these animals easily acclimate to lab conditions, are short-lived enough to yield reproductive success over their entire lifetime in a single year in the wild, and are often easy to observe and monitor in free-ranging populations. What ideal systems in which to study integrated mating system biology and mechanisms that lead to high partner access (try doing this with – say – insects....)!!! Examples from the past:

  1. We have studied (and still do), how paternity gets biased with respect to sperm use from different partners, in relation to risk of inbreeding and male coloration, and how this reduces the risk of having malformed offspring (acting via compromised developmental genes, such as Hox genes).
  2. Standing on the shoulders of giants recently scoring the Nobel prize, we have just described how differently telomeres (little DNA caps protecting chromosomes) can act in males and females (very similar to differences in men and women) and be important dictators of lifespan and lifetime reproductive success in female lizards.
  3. One of the most intriguing phenomena in Darwin’s mind (and ours!) is how individuals of the same species that differ in their reproductive output can coexist through evolutionary time. Why does not the ‘best’ reproducer replace the 'worst'? Our studies of the polymorphic painted dragon lizard in Australia has shown how males of different colours can have very different reproductive tactics and live side-by-side in 'average evolutionary equality' through evolutionary time.
  4. "What makes my sis so unattractive..." ...you may ask? The fact is - she may not be, at least not to your brothers... Recent theoretical work on inbreeding biology suggests that genetic compatibility of partners is context-dependent and that close inbreeding may sometimes be favoured by selection. This may explain why males of the frogs we have studied, that compete with another male that is less related with the female, sire more of her eggs in controlled experiments! Absurd as it may seem – it also protects against hybridisation with closely related species that produce inferior (too outbred) offspring.
  5. Are free radicals always bad for you (as we are told in morning TV commercials) and how do they affect your chances to have young ones? We think the answers are much more complex than they first appear ...join us to find out why! We just got the ideal equipment to study these phenomena!

Photo: Australian painted dragon blue male. Copyright: M. Tobler.