Ongoing projects

The department works on a number of research projects, funded by Icelandic and international funds.

Here is a list of the current projects being worked on within the department: 


The importance of egg size for phenotypic variation and divergence in wild populations
In nature, considerable phenotypic diversity occurs at multiple levels: among and within species, populations, and among siblings. understanding the determinants of phenotypic variation and their consequences for performance of individuals remains a challenge for evolutionary biology. Egg size mediated maternal effects have been recognized as an important factor of phenotypic diversity. However, understanding of how egg size affects offspring performance and diversification among wild populations is limited. Here, we study polymorphic Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) and ask: 1) How variable is egg size among populations and what are the consequences of
this variation for offspring phenotype and performance? 2) Do differences in egg size contribute to adaptive divergence of populations? And 3) to what extent do maternal effects (i.e. egg size) interact with offspring gene expression. We will measure variation in egg size and egg number, among and within populations that differ in their degree of sympatric divergence, and its relationship with offspring phenotype among and within females. We will use diet manipulation to test for the interaction of egg size and environmental effects on juveniles, and explore how offspring phenotype is influenced by the interaction of egg size and gene expression. This study presents a novel approach to understanding the factors responsible for shaping and maintaining biodiversity. 
Funded by Rannís (2014 - 2016)
Biological diversity in Icelandic subsurface freshwater
The world is undergoing major biodiversity changes, which emphasizes theneed to understand the processes that create, maintain and alter biological diversity. In many ways, Icelandic freshwater systems constitute a natural laboratory which offers unique opportunities to research which factors may be important for the origin and maintenance of biological diversity. This is especially true for the biota of groundwater and springs of Iceland, which are poorly known but potentially of high scientific interest. In the proposed study we will map biological diversity of groundwater and its ecotone zones, with surface water, in springs and rivers. We will especially focus on food web structure in groundwater habitats and how they connect to surface water. We predict that we will manage to connect observed diversity to ecological characters, especially temperature and nutrient availability. The results of the study will give important information on how we should use and protect
our groundwater resource, in addition to having high scientific value. 
Funded by Rannís (2014 - 2016)
The importance of ecology, phenotype  and genetic structure for  biological diversity in Icelandic cave charr

One of the key questions in contemporary evolutionary biology is to understand which factors shape biological diversity. This is especially true at the intraspecific level, where evolutionary and ecologically processes interact to shape the genetic and phenotypic structure of populations. To better understand microevoluton of populations it is important to be able to trace individuals through time and record their fate. It is also important to establish pedigrees to understand the relationships between phenotype and fitness. Until recently this was extremely hard to obtain in wild populations. With the development of new molecular tools this task, although challenging, has become considerably easier. Here, we propose an ambitious project where we will examine phenotypic and genetic diversity as well as natural selection in relation to ecological characters in populations of small benthic Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) in twelve caves springs around the lake Mývatn, NE Iceland. The results of the study will give us valuable information to better understand which factors, internal and external, are important for shaping biological diversity in small populations.  

Funded by Rannís (2012 - 2014), Energy Research Fund (2013 - 2015)

The importance of ecological factors for the evolution of biological diversity: insights from temporal and spatial variation in selection on threespine stickleback in Mývatn 

The world is undergoing major biodiversity crisis, which emphasizes the need to understand better the processes that create, maintain and change it. Of particular importance is to understand the role of evolutionary processes and their interplay with ecology, but these processes can operate at similar time scales. There are two main ways to study such eco-evolutionary interactions. First, temporal approaches observe phenotypic and genetic variation in response to variation in selection over time. Second, spatial approaches compare phenotypic and genetic variation among recently established populations in different habitats.

In the present study, we will use both approaches to study microevolutionary changes in threespine stickleback populations in Mývatn NE-Iceland and surrounding ponds. Ecological monitoring of the lake over the past 30 years show large fluctuations in population densities of invertebrates and threespine sticklebacks. In Belgjaskogur a large number of ecologically different ponds exist, some of which have stickleback populations. We will measure morphological and genetic changes in both the lake and the ponds to investigate if: i) evolutionary processes contribute to population size fluctuations over time and ii) how complexity of ecological factors affects phenotypic divergence on a small geographic scale. 

Results will provide novel insight into the relationship between ecological and evolutionary mechanisms in maintaining and changing biological diversity. The study will promote further studies on the ecological and evolutionary feedback mechanisms within ecological communities. This new knowledge will aid in decisions on how to protect and use our natural resources.

Funded by Rannís (2009 - 2011), Náttúruverndarsjóður Pálma Jónssonar (2014)


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