The basic process of evolution by natural selection involves genetic changes that confer an advantage in survival or reproduction. What are these genetic changes and where do they occur in the genome?
Work in my lab aims to address these questions with a focus on the tropical Heliconius butterflies, because of their extensive diversity, both within and between species, particularly in colour and pattern. Studies of colour have pioneered much of our understanding of evolution and genetics because it is easily measured and observed, and we have a fairly good understanding of the selective pressures operating on colour. Work in my lab mainly focusses on analyses of DNA sequences from within and between populations, and between species, which we use to identify the action of natural selection and to find associations between genetic and phenotypic variation.
We also conduct fieldwork in south and central America, to collect butterflies, and to investigate their ecology. One of our current research goals is to identify genes controlling structural colour. These are colours that are produced by nanometre-scale physical structures that interact with light through processes such as diffraction and interference. Very little is currently known about the biological processes that control the formation of these precise nanostructures.
Another major research area focusses on adaptation to altitude in Heliconius in the Andes. We are particularly interested in genetic, physiological and behavioural adptations to temperature.
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