Genetics and genomics of speciation
What are the first genes to change during the formation of new species? How do novel mating signals and behavior evolve? We seek to understand the genetic architecture of traits that create reproductive isolation among populations. We want to know how male and female traits and preferences co-evolve and how multiple barrier traits become coupled together within the genome.
This work uses the European corn borer moth (Ostrinia nubilalis) as a model. Populations of this sweet corn pest can vary in mating pheromone, pheromone preference (males and females), and timing of mating (seasonal and circadian). Current focus is on the genetic basis for each of these traits and co-localization within the genome.
Environmental and epigenetic effects on speciation
Plasticity and learning also play an important role in speciation process. If mating traits or preferences depend on the environment, shifts in the environment could weaken reproductive isolation and increase hybridization. Prior work focused on learning (imprinting) in mate preference. We seek to measure and quantify the effect of the environment on mating preferences to predict how future environmental changes may influence biodiversity. We are investigating epigenetic mechanisms (such as differences in DNA methylation) that produce changes in mate preference in response to ecological changes such as predation or temperature.