Munich Graduate Program for Evolution, Ecology and Systematics

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Seminar Series

Every semester, EES organise a seminar series, which takes place on Mondays at 17:00 at Biozentrum, Großhaderner Str. 2, 82152 Planegg-Martinsried, Lecture Hall B 01.027

Speakers are invited from mainly around Europe across all three areas (Evolution, Ecology and Systematics), leading to a wide-range of presented research topics.

Summer Semester 2018


Chris Jiggins - 

University of Cambridge, UK



Gergely Szollosi -

University of Budapest, Hungary


Rodrigo Medellin -

UNAM, Mexico


Thomas Gilbert - 

University of Copenhagen, Denmark


Winter Semester 2017/2018


Samantha Patrick - "Life history correlates of consistency and variability in behaviour"

University of Liverpool, UK

Abstract: How individuals obtain the resources they need for survival and reproduction is integral to their fitness. Individuals may differ in the way in which they search for food or the spatial and temporal consistency in their foraging strategy. The fitness consequences of short and long term consistency are poorly understood and whether differences within populations emerge due to adaptive strategies or constraints linked to quality has rarely been studied. In this presentation I will discuss the emergence of individual differences in the exploration-exploitation trade off, indicative of differences in searching behaviour. I will present evidence of short and long term consistency in foraging area and habitat choice and examine whether specialists and generalist coexist or whether specialisation is always adaptive. I will look at how these foraging traits change over the lifetime of individuals and reveal the importance of intrinsic drivers in shaping the links between foraging and fitness.


Katie Peichel - "Genetics of adaptation in sticklebacks: the roles of pleiotropy and linkage"

University of Bern, Switzerland

Abstract: Despite recent progress, relatively little is known about the specific genetic and molecular changes that underlie adaptation to new environments. Stickleback fish have been at the forefront of research to uncover the genetic and molecular architecture that underlies adaptation and speciation. A wealth of quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping studies in sticklebacks has provided insight into the distribution of effect sizes during adaptation and has also revealed that several regions of the genome contain more loci than expected for traits involved in adaptation. It is unknown whether these trait clusters result from tight physical linkage of multiple genetic changes responsible for different traits, or from a single genetic change with pleiotropic effects. I will discuss recent research in my group that is focused on disentangling the roles of pleiotropy and linkage in adaptation, using both genome-wide approaches and more focused studies of specific loci with a major effect on adaptation.


Christian Schlötterer - "Evolution of gene expression in Drosophila”

VedMedUni Vienna, Austria

Abstract: Temperature is a major environmental factor affecting many traits, including gene expression. While at benign temperatures the gene expression pattern is very similar between genotypes, at more extreme temperatures large genotype specific differences can be detected. Most of the differences in expression can be attributed to trans-effects. Nevertheless, it is not apparent to what extent these differences in gene expression reflect adaptive responses. We address this question by exposing a natural Drosophila population to new temperature environments and study the change in gene expression after more than 60 generations of experimental evolution. We show that the ancestral plasticity in natural Drosophila populations is most likely adaptive, because after 60 generations most of the ancestrally plastic genes increased their plasticity at the extreme laboratory environments.


Daniel Hooper - "Chromosome inversions and avian speciation"

Cornell University, USA

Abstract: Species divergence is associated not just with the accumulation of molecular changes in DNA composition but oftentimes also with structural changes to the genome, such as chromosomal inversions. Because the speciation process is protracted, it appears that gene flow among incipient species is common and may often influence the generation of reproductive isolation. While gene flow generally acts to homogenize differences between diverging populations it can, paradoxically, play a creative role in speciation by promoting the evolution of chromosome inversions that encompass and keep together sets of locally adapted genes. Chromosome inversions commonly distinguish the genomes of closely related bird species and are increasingly found as polymorphisms within species. Why? I will first share results from a pair of comparative studies on inversion evolution using cytological data from more than 400 species in the most speciose order of birds, the
passerines, in order to test support for alternative models of inversion fixation (1,2). Secondly, I will share results from an ongoing project examining the extent to which chromosome inversions contribute to reproductive isolation in an avian hybrid zone.
1. Hooper, D. M. & T. D. Price. Rates of karyotypic evolution in Estrildid finches differ between island and continental clades. 2015. Evolution 69:890-903.
2. Hooper, D. M. & T. D. Price. Chromosomal inversion differences correlate with range overlap in passerine birds. 2017. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1:1526-1534.


Jonathan Jeschke - "Hierarchies of hypotheses and other new tools for research synthesis"

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Abstract: Massive amounts of ecological and other data are accumulating each year. In the current era of Big Data, the statement by Naisbitt that “we are drowning in information but starved for knowledge” from the 1980s seems to be more applicable than ever before. We arguably lack effective tools for research synthesis at a macro level, tools that help “connect the dots.” I will present new synthesis tools – Hierarchies of Hypotheses (HoHs), networks of major hypotheses and research questions, among others – and give examples for applications of these tools in invasion ecology and biogeography.


Daniel Jeffares - "Populations, genomics and transposon mutagenesis in the (fission) yeast model"

University of York, UK

Abstract: The fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe is an important model for molecular and cellular biology. In contrast to the budding yeast, we knew very little about the diversity, ecology or evolution of the species until very recently. I’ll introduce what little is known about the ecology of this yeast (1), and then describe three of my studies of genome diversity and function. First, I’ll outline our study of genomic and phenotypic diversity, where we describe population structure, date the dispersal of the species and show that genome-wide association studies are feasible in this species (2). Secondly, I’ll describe our analysis of structural variation from short read data demonstrating that copy number variants both contribute to heritable traits, and are unstable (3). On a slightly different track, I’ll describe our recent analysis of saturating transposon mutagenesis in S. pombe (unpublished). In this study, we generated very dense transposon insertion libraries using the Hermes transposon, to one insertion per 14nt of the genome. We developed a hidden Markov Model that uses the transposon insertion density to classify the relative importance of each position in the genome. We show that HMM states assign similar functional constraints to comparative genomics and genetic diversity, but with far higher resolution. This data will bring us closer to quantifying the functional significance of every base in the genome. 


Robert Page - "Beyond the Superorganism: how social mechanisms evolve"

Arizona State University, USA

Abstract: More than a century ago (1911) William Morton Wheeler proposed that social insects should be considered organisms because they have the defining properties of individuals "... a complete, definitely coordinated and therefore individualized system of activities, which are primarily directed to obtaining and assimilating substances from an environment, to producing other similar systems, known as offspring, and to protecting the system itself and usually also its offspring from disturbances emanating from the environment. The three fundamental activities enumerated in this definition, namely nutrition, reproduction, and protection ... ." In 1928 Wheeler first used the term "superorganism" to describe social insects, which became a permanent part of the vocabulary of social insect biologists. But, Wheeler's superorganism was little more than a metaphor created to explain the evolution of cooperative behavior, something he thought impossible with Darwinian selection, focused on the struggle for life and reproduction, best depicted by the phrase of Herbert Spencer "the survival of the fittest". Over the past century the metaphor has gone through phases of use and abuse and at least two different "revivals", but always as a metaphor, a conceptual scaffold on which analogies are hung, offering a way to explain observed social phenomena, but little in the way of predictive hypothesis and new questions. What is missing, in my view, is a theory of the superorganism that incorporates and integrates the following components: 1) how cooperation resulting in reduced reproduction (altruism) evolves (a major theoretical enterprise for 50 years), 2) how colony level selection affects multiple levels of biological organization -- genes to societies, 3) the mechanisms by which coordinated division of labor emerges from a group of individuals without a global control system and how such mechanisms evolve. I will discuss a 25-year experiment with honey bees where I addressed components 2 and 3.


Christiane Fuchs - "Estimating single-cell heterogeneities from small cell populations"

HelmholtzZentrum München, Germany

Abstract: Cell-to-cell variation in gene expression occurs in a number of biological contexts, such as development and cancer. Discovering such heterogeneities from large bulks of cells is impossible due to the inherent population averaging. The analysis of single cells, on the other hand, is challenging because of e.g. technical noise. Here, I show that we can infer single-cell regulatory states by statistically deconvolving measurements from small groups of cells. This averaging-and-deconvolution approach allows us to quantify single-cell heterogeneities while avoiding the measurement noise of global single-cell techniques. Application of the statistical technique to breast epithelial tissues helped gain new insights about some breast cancer associated genes. I will outline how the method can be used to detect transcriptomic heterogeneity in leukemia cells within the CRC 1243 “Cancer Evolution”.


Stefan Lüpold - "Sperm wars: rise of the giants"

University of Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract: Sexual selection drives the evolution of male ornaments and armaments used in gaining access to mates. However, whenever females mate with multiple males, sperm of different males will compete for fertilization. Selection for sperm that are both more competitive and better able to overcome the challenges of the female reproductive tract has brought about tremendous variation in sperm size and shape. I will discuss our recent work on the causes and consequences of variation in sperm form and function, including the evolution of the longest sperm ever measured. I will further discuss how males trade off the allocation of their limited resources between producing masses of high-quality sperm and the costly ornaments and armaments to gain mating opportunities in the first place.


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