Researcher biography

My research aims to understand the processes generating and eliminating genetic variation, and the consequences of these processes for the adaptation and surival of species. When populations decline due to factors like habitat loss, selection becomes less effective at maintaining a healthy, robust population. The potential for "mutational meltdown" to drive extinction of populations in these circumstances, were selection is ineffective, has been noted for nearly a centuary. However, the way in which mutations change the traits that affect fitness, and can be removed by selection, remains quite mysterious. We work with native Australian rainforest flies, an amenable model for getting at these complex question. To extend our knowledge of how new mutations can contribute to adaptive potential in populations, we investiage how mutation changes traits ranging from body size to immune response. We use both direct correlations with fitness, and comparison between mutational and standing genetic variance to understand the selection acting on new mutations. We are particulary intereted in understanding the role that pleiotropy - where the same mutation affects more than one trait - might play in how quickly selection can improve fitness of a poulation. Whether changes to traits like size are beneficial or deleterious depends on the context. We therefore measure these mutational effects under different thermal and nutritional conditions to understand, for example, whether mutations that decrease fitness in the current environment might increase it under new environmental conditions. By understanding mutation, and the factors that affect it, our ultimate goal is to improve our predictions of if, and how, populations can adapt to novel environmental conditions.