Ana Cecilia Hijar Islas
Project title: Non-genetic evolution of the three-spined stickleback fish (Gasterosteus acuelatus)
Summary: It is widely recognised that phenotypic variation is shaped by genetic and non-genetic mechanisms of inheritance. However, the extent to which non-genetic processes contribute to the evolution of organisms remains largely unknown. With my PhD work, I will explore two non-genetic components of adaptive evolution: epigenetics and eco-evolutionary dynamics. Both components will be addressed from an empirical and theoretical perspective, using host-parasite systems and the three-spined stickleback fish as a model organism. During the first stage of my project, I propose to do a multi-generational study in a controlled infection set up to look at the paternal effects underlying immune responses of offspring. Importantly, I will focus on the specificity of host resistance after exposure to different parasite-types and on the stability of immune priming across generations. During the second stage, I will look at the impact of host-parasite interactions on the ecosystem dynamics to find a relevant link between ecology and non-genetic evolutionary change. Overall, the interplay of both, empirical and theoretical evidence, will provide with robust and accurate predictions about evolutionary change beyond genetic mechanisms to understand further the community dynamics and species coexistence in nature.