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Investigation of the processes that generate, maintain, and threaten biological diversity

School of Biological Sciences

About the Project

Research in my group addresses one of the fundamental questions in evolutionary ecology: what are the ecological and evolutionary processes that generate, maintain, and constrain/threaten biological diversity? In particular, we are interested in speciation as a result of divergent natural selection between ecologically different environments (ecological speciation). Using integrative and highly collaborative approaches, we try to answer the questions of (i) how and why organisms diversify phenotypically, (ii) what ecological and evolutionary forces shape reproductive barriers important in facilitating an initial reduction in gene flow between diverging populations, and (iii) what role human-induced environmental change has on biodiversity in general, and the stability of population differentiation among diverging populations in particular. Hence, our research further emphasizes the dynamic nature of evolving biological systems also in the context of conservation. To that end, we combine behavioural, chemical ecological, population genetic, life-history, and morphological techniques that include observational studies, manipulations in the field, and laboratory experiments. We put great emphasis on comparative analyses among species and populations, and make use of different study systems (mainly livebearing fishes, mammals, and insects) that span a range of biological diversity. Combined these systems span the full spectrum of the speciation continuum from panmixis to complete reproductive isolation, allowing examination of the different mechanisms driving or constraining the formation of new species. If you are interested, please see my webpage for a list of publications and more details on the various study systems:


Pfenninger M, S Patel, L Arias-Rodriguez, B Feldmeyer, R Riesch & M Plath (2015) Unique evolutionary trajectories in repeated adaptation to hydrogen sulphide-toxic habitats of a Neotropical fish (Poecilia mexicana). Molecular Ecology 24(21): 5446-5459.
Riesch R, T Easter, CA Layman & RB Langerhans (2015) Rapid human-induced divergence of life-history strategies in Bahamian livebearing fishes (family Poeciliidae). Journal of Animal Ecology 84(6): 1732-1743.
Comeault AA, S Flaxman, R Riesch, E Curran, V Soria-Carrasco, Z Gompert, TE Farkas, M Muschick, TL Parchman, CA Buerkle, T Schwander, J Slate & P Nosil (2015) Selection on a genetic polymorphism counteracts ecological speciation in a stick insect. Current Biology 25(15): 1975-1981.
Riesch R, M Plath, I Schlupp, M Tobler & RB Langerhans (2014) Colonization of toxic environments drives predictable life-history evolution in livebearing fishes (Poeciliidae). Ecology Letters 17(1): 65-71.
Martin RA, R Riesch, JL Heinen & RB Langerhans (2014) Evolution of male coloration during a post-Pleistocene radiation of Bahamas mosquitofish (Gambusia hubbsi). Evolution 68(2): 397-411.
Plath M, M Pfenninger, H Lerp, R Riesch, C Eschenbrenner, PA Slattery, D Bierbach, N Herrmann, M Schulte, L Arias-Rodriguez, J Rimber-Indy, C Passow & M Tobler (2013) Genetic differentiation and selection against migrants in evolutionary replicated extreme environments. Evolution 67(9): 2647-2661.
Riesch R, RA Martin, RB Langerhans (2013) Predation’s role in life-history evolution of a livebearing fish and a test of the Trexler-DeAngelis model of maternal provisioning. The American Naturalist 181(1): 78-93.
Riesch R, RA Martin, H Lerp, M Plath & T Wronski (2013) Sex and size matter: reproductive biology and determinants of offspring survival in Gazella marica. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 110(1): 116-127.
Riesch R, LG Barrett-Lennard, GM Ellis, JKB Ford & VB Deecke (2012) Cultural traditions and the evolution of reproductive isolation: ecological speciation in killer whales? Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 106(1): 1-17.
Riesch R & VB Deecke (2011) Whistle communication in mammal-eating killer whales (Orcinus orca): further evidence for acoustic divergence between ecotypes. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 65(7): 1377-1387.

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