Bridging the Gap Between Developmental Genetics and Paleontology

We study the causes of temporal and spatial variation using the threespine stickleback fish, Gasterosteus aculeatus, as a model. Patterns of temporal and geographical variation depend on ancestry, genetic properties, and population processes. The threespine stickleback exhibits conspicuous phenotypic variation, is widespread in diverse habitats, has several excellent qualities for sampling, husbandry, and breeding, has been studied extensively from diverse perspectives, and is rapidly being developed for genomics. The threespine stickleback has been described as a biological "supermodel" because these properties make it useful for so many fields within biology. Our current research concerns temporal variation in fossil lineages and modern populations, the influence of genetic covariance and specific genes on evolution of morphological traits, phylogeography of Cook Inlet populations, ontogeny of trophic morphology and feeding performance, and variation of the brain and spatial learning. We routinely use Jim Rohlf's geometric morphometrics to analyze morphological variation. Most of our field research is conducted on stickleback populations in Cook Inlet, Alaska and on fossil stickleback near Reno, Nevada. We actively seek collaborations to address complex biological questions and frequently interact with a growing community of stickleback biologists, including behaviorists, developmental geneticists, and paleontologists. In the Research section, we elaborate on specific projects and plans.