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The primary aim of our research group is to characterize the evolutionary responses of aquatic animals to natural and anthropogenic influences, and to develop predictive approaches that can be used to describe these responses. Most fitness traits that are related to the long-term viability and persistence of populations are encoded by a number of genes that interact with each other, and are influenced by the environment. Thus, we use a combination of molecular and quantitative genetic approaches to describe trait variation and to track changes in these traits. Most of our research is conducted on anadromous Pacific salmon, because each species has developed a diverse set of life history strategies that are suited to the broad range environments in which they spawn, develop and migrate.
Our research has implications for the conservation and management of fish populations, because we need to understand how these populations will respond to a changing environment. Specifically, we need to be able to identify natural environmental influences on the evolution of fitness traits, and then to anticipate how populations might respond to activities such as harvest, environmental changes, and conservation actions such as reintroductions and supportive breeding. This knowledge will assist us in taking proactive strategies to reducing human impacts on natural populations.
Our research program follows three main directions:
- The fitness consequences of population structure. Both mating within (inbreeding) and between (outbreeding) populations can lead to positive or negative changes in individual fitness and in population structure. Characterizing the fitness response under these scenarios is important for the management of small isolated populations, and for investigating their recovery through the introduction of unrelated individuals. Our research in this area also aims to provide insight into natural evolutionary processes, such as genetic drift, inbreeding and hybridization.
- Human-induced evolution of correlated traits in fish populations. Many quantitative traits are genetically correlated with each other, and selection on one trait might elicit an unanticipated response in another. Human activities such as harvest and captive rearing might have evolutionary consequences – but the population response is often difficult to predict. Our attempts to understand correlated responses in phenotypic traits are important not only for predicting evolutionary change, but also allow us to investigate alternative management scenarios that might reduce this change.
- Genome-based approaches to studying the evolution of quantitative traits. Rapid advances in genome-level approaches have provided an unprecedented opportunity to characterize the genes involved in fitness traits. We are currently using a range of methods to determine the molecular basis of certain traits, and are studying their evolution in wild populations.
Further details of these areas can be found on our “Research” page.