Research

Our research focuses on the evolution and diversification of  morphological traits – how they are genetically and developmentally determined, and what are the selective forces that shape them. We combine developmental genetics, quantitative and population genetics and behavioural techniques. 

fin.001The pigmentation patterns of lake Malawi cichlid fishes provide an ideal system to study morphological evolution. We specifically focus on a set of brightly pigmented spots on male anal fins, known as “egg-spots”. Egg-spots are a diverse trait (number, colour and shape), and play a key role in the territorial and breeding behaviour of around 1,500 species of cichlids. They are relatively simple structure, consisting of a circular area made up of xanthophores and iridophores (orange and silver pigment cells respectively) and are often surrounded by a transparent outer-ring.

With the availability of hundreds of cichlid species genomes and genome editing tools (eg. Tol2 transgenesis and CRISPR), we can link genetics, cellular biology, development, to organismal trait variation. By addressing these mechanisms across different timescales (populations, species and genera) we can tackle a long-standing question: whether the basis of adaptive change is the same at the micro- and macro-evolutionary scale. 

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Ongoing projects

Microevolution of egg-spot patterns in Astatotilapia calliptera from lake Massoko

more info coming soon

Mechanisms of egg-spot emergence and diversification in Malawi cichlids

more info coming soon

Neural crest cell development in Malawi cichlids

more info coming soon

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