Molecular Ecology

The Research Group Molecular Ecology uses the exciting opportunities offered by molecular biology to study ecology as a snap-shot of evolving biodiversity. We have been doing research in four areas, integrating genetic and genomic data with those from other sources (e.g., niche ecology, morphology, behaviour, chemistry, karyology, life-history research). Integrative biodiversity research: We have identified pitfalls of using single disciplines, elaborated a protocol for combining multiple disciplines, and completed a series of multisource case study. Projects in progress include ones on the diversity of ants, bristletails, grasshoppers, harvestmen, and spiders, mostly with a focus on the Alps and partly on the evolution of endemism. For these projects, we have also developed bioinformatic tools. Symbiotic interactions: Building on previous work, we explore proximate and ultimate causations in an ant-fungi mutualism and various symbioses of Wolbachia bacteria and insects. Social evolution: We are continuing our research on colony organisation in ants, including in invasion-biological context. Currently, we are characterising the social organisation of a facultatively supercolonial ant and sequencing its transcriptome and genome, as basis for sociogenomics research. We have also discovered a system of colony mixing and hybridisation. Rapid evolution: Recently, we have started exploring evolutionary and ecological effects of rising temperature on mountain biodiversity at the phenotypic and genotypic level. To investigate the extent of rapid thermal evolution, its costs, and molecular foundations in Alpine Drosophila, the project combines selection experiments, life-history assays, and next-generation genome sequencing of pooled individuals. We collaborate with 36 national and international institutions.

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