Evolutionary Ecology, Ecophysiology and Immunogenetics of Vertebrates

Our research focuses on how environmental factors shape the evolution of life histories and life strategies in wild vertebrates. We are particularly interested in how the environment an animal encounters before birth influences its later life, including its behaviour, morphology and physiology. Because this prenatal environment is provided by the mother, we ask why mothers differ in their investment into their unborn young, what the genetic basis of this maternal provisioning is, and how the environment influences it. Also, we study if the maternal environment before birth prepares the offspring to deal with environmental conditions they encounter later on in their life, and how environmental predictability and environmental change influences the adaptive value of this maternal programming.

A second line of research within our group focuses on host-parasite interactions, immunoecology and immunogenetics in wild populations. Understanding why individual hosts as well as host populations differ in their resistance to parasites, and how this affects the evolution of parasite virulence and host life history are fundamental quests in the field of evolutionary biology. At the same time, it can provide an evolutionary framework for the applied management of human and wildlife diseases. We study patterns of parasite-mediated selection acting on the host genome, and in particular on candidate immune genes for parasite resistance, how this selection differs in time and space, and how environmental factors influence it.

We mainly work with natural populations of birds and small mammals and use approaches from behavioural and evolutionary ecology, ecophysiology and genetics to tackle our research questions

Research themes:

  • Causes of variation and evolutionary consequences of the prenatal environment
  • Maternal effects
  • Host-parasite interactions, immunoecology and immunogenetics
  • Sex differences in parasite resistance and immune defence
  • Physiological and genetic basis of adaptations to the environment
  • Sexual selection and ornamentation

Group members: