ACE Postdoctoral Fellows
I am an evolutionary ecologist with broad interests in the evolution of biotic interactions and the importance of adaptation for responses to environmental change. My past research projects have used field experiments and population genetic analysis to explore the evolution of butterfly host plant preference during climate-driven range expansion (PhD, University of Bristol, UK) and both genomics and metabolomics to explore variation in plant-pathogen interactions (Postdoc, University of Glasgow, UK). My research at ACE will combine field experiments with genomics and assays of plant chemical signaling to examine adaptive variation in plant-insect interactions in alpine environments. Given that climate change is predicted to expose plants to interactions with different species, I am particularly interested in testing the importance of evolutionary change for adapting to this changing biotic environment.
My training was in population genetics (M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees at University of Edinburgh, UK) with a strong emphasis on computational and Bayesian statistics. During my post-doctoral years I moved to study forest ecology and global change biology. Currently, I lead a multi-disciplinary research program combining population and quantitative genetics, Bayesian statistics, and process-based ecological modelling to study the mechanisms of adaptation of forests trees to climate change.
Using a combination of mathematical modeling and empirical experimentation, I investigate how feedbacks between ecological and evolutionary processes influence the dynamics and coexistence of interacting species in variable environments. I am particularly interested in the eco-evolutionary dynamics of mutualism: how mutualisms arise and persist in the face of competition and antagonism. Species, however, do not exist in a vacuum, but rather in dynamic environments. To study the interplay between species interactions and environmental variability, I am developing conceptual frameworks for predicting species’ ecological and evolutionary responses to environmental variability. By investigating mechanisms promoting coexistence in variable environments, my research contributes not only to evolutionary ecology, but also to applied issues such as conservation under climate change.
Dr. Julien Massoni After a PhD on the evolutionary history of an old lineage of angiosperms (University Paris-Sud, France), and a postdoc on the ecology of South-African plant communities (University of Connecticut, USA), my current primary interest is to understand how biotic interactions between flowers and microorganisms shape the ecology and evolution of both flowering plants and microorganisms involved. Even though previous studies highlighted critical roles of microorganisms in processes such as plant reproduction, these relationships remain largely underexplored leaving fundamental questions unanswered. By using chemical ecology approaches, -omics technologies, in addition of synthetic-community models and field experiments, this interdisciplinary project aims to depict the ecology of this biotic interaction, and its role in the biology of flowers and microorganisms.
Dr. Siobhan O'Brien
I am an evolutionary ecologist interested in understanding the interplay between microbial social interactions and the structure and function of natural microbial communities. In microbes, many social behaviours can be predicted to have fitness consequences for conspecifics as well as the microbial community more broadly. It is therefore likely that community context plays a role in shaping the evolutionary trajectory of these behaviours and vice versa. During my ACE fellowship I will explore these topics using experimental evolution of the highly social Myxococcus xanthus bacterium, under increasing levels of ecological complexity.
Dr. Alejandra Rodríguez
My major research interest is to understand the forces and mechanisms driving adaptation of microbial populations to complex and stressful environments. To address this broad topic, I use evolution experiments on bacteria coupled with high-throughput sequencing techniques. I am starting a postdoc in which I will study the evolution of metabolic interactions in multispecies biofilms exposed to seasonal environments. I hope my project will provide fundamental insights into the eco-evolutionary dynamics of communities and the capabilities of organisms in changing environments.
Dr. Ben Roller
I am interested in the causes and consequences of diversity in microbial ecosystems. Bacteria are enigmatic organisms with a major impact on the nutrient cycles of our planet. Natural populations of bacteria vary in their rate and efficiency of growth, and my previous research has explored the physiological and genomic basis of these life history patterns. My research at ACE will use life history theory to explore if bacterial populations and communities respond predictably to environmental change.
Dr. Jessica Stapley
I am an evolutionary geneticists and my research focusses on understanding how genetics and evolutionary processes interact to influence phenotypic variation and adaptation. My research spans genetics, genomics, animal behaviour, adaptation and speciation in a range of taxa. In my previous research I developed genomic tools in non model species that enable us to better understand the molecular mechanisms underlying phenotypic variation in birds and lizards. My current and future research aims to use similar genomic techniques to understand how characteristics of the genome can influence rapid adaptation.
Dr. Jessica Stephenson
I am interested in the factors that influence disease transmission in natural populations. For directly transmitted parasites, transmission between conspecific hosts is largely determined by host social behaviour. My research focusses on how biotic and abiotic conditions modify this social behaviour and hence parasite transmission. I am using the guppy and its gyrodactylid parasites to investigate how changes in these ecological conditions may drive evolutionary change in both the host and parasite.
Dr. Thomas Van Boeckel
I am a spatial epidemiologist interested in disease transmission at the animal-human interface with a focus on drug resistance and pandemic zoonosis. I use statistical and geospatial methods to help increase our understanding of how pathogens spread in a world increasingly of our own making. My work is deeply informed by the fact that many emerging pathogens are ‘farmed’ by humans. Some, such as drug-resistant bacteria, are farmed in the metaphorical sense through the overuse of antibiotics, while others, like avian influenza viruses, literally emerge as a results of shifts in farming practices. Studying the spatio-temporal dynamics of these pathogens provides fundamental insights in understanding the environmental (climate, ecological shifts) and anthropogenic (economic growth, urbanization) drivers of disease emergence.
Former ACE postdoctoral fellows
Dr. Amandine Cornille
My research focuses on neutral and adaptive diversification processes in plants to unravel the factors underlying the divergence of populations and formation of species using population genetic and genomic approaches. In particular, I have focused on the extent of gene flow during diversification. To investigate these key evolutionary questions, I have used contrasted study models: diploid perennial outcrossers (fig trees, genus Ficus; apple trees, genus Malus, peonies shrubs, genus Peonia, genus Dianthus with its associated pathogen Microbotryum) and a polyploid annual selfer Capsella bursa-pastoris.
Dr. Vasilis Dakos
I have a PhD in theoretical ecology from Wageningen University in the Netherlands supervised by Marten Scheffer and Egbert van Nes. Before joining ETH, I have been a Marie Curie postgraduate fellow in Spain in the lab of Jordi Bascompte. My research mainly focuses on the emerging topic of tipping point detection and ecological resilience. I develop ways to detect tipping points in climate records, semi-arid ecosystem models, experimental populations, or plant-pollinator networks. Currently, I'm interested in eco-evolutionary tipping points.
Dr. Martin Turcotte
I study the dynamic interplay between ecological and evolutionary processes. My primary interests lie in understanding how rapid evolutionary change, e.g. in response to environmental degradation, can modify and impact ecological dynamics and how in turn changes in ecological interactions drive future evolution. For example I am testing the ecological ramifications (population dynamics) of seasonal climate adaptation in Drosophila and how these might feedback and alter the selective environment. To test eco-evolutionary hypotheses I apply a combination of experimental approaches, genetic analyses, and community manipulations both in the lab and in the field. My research questions have led me to utilize a number of complimentary systems including green peach aphids, fruit flies, and duckweeds. In addition, I have a budding interest (pun intended) in how evolutionary change during domestication of crops alters ecological and evolutionary interactions among species. Finally, I have begun exploring how rapid phenotypic changes (plasticity) can alter species coexistence in local plant system here in Switzerland.