Evolutionary processes underlying extinction

Land use change has led to the extinction of innumerable populations and species. Through examining the DNA of historical samples we can infer the genetic condition of populations prior to extinction. We can also examine evidence of natural selection in response to landscape modification (Fountain et al. 2016 PNAS).

influence of resource availability on physiology

Changing environments also alter the amount of available resources. By manipulating oxygen and nutrient availability, and measuring metabolic output, we examine how resources interact to determine physiological performance (Fountain et al. 2016 J. Exp. Biol.).

ECO-Evolutionary feedbacks

We now know that evolution can be rapid and interact with dynamic ecological processes. The availability of exceptional ecological, demographic and genomic resources for the Glanville fritillary butterfly provides an outstanding opportunity to study these eco-evolutionary dynamics. We reconstructed kinship groups using genetic markers to make inferences on dispersal and larval behaviour (Fountain et al. 2017 Evol. App. in press).

Human facilitated metapopulation dynamics

Using newly designed molecular markers and a Bayesian modelling approach we found evidence that bed bug infestations can, with the help of humans, be established by as little as a single mated female. Infestations tended to have very limited genetic diversity, indicating that populations were highly inbred but nonetheless could reach large sizes (Fountain et al. 2014 Mol. Ecol.).

Copyright Richard Naylor

Outbreeding effects in an inbreeding insect

Whilst bed bug populations tend to be highly inbred, human facilitated transport can allow unrelated individuals to meet, leading to a potential increase in fitness. Outbreeding indeed led to a significant short term increase in survival, however this benefit was lost over multiple generations (Fountain et al. 2015 Ecol. Evol.).

Copyright Richard Naylor

Silk and disease resistance in the weaver ant

For my bachelors thesis I studied the weaver ant (Polyrhachis dives). The weaver ant has lost one of the key immune defences of the ants, the metapleural gland. We tested whether the silk the ants build their nests with had any antimicrobial activity that could offset this loss (Fountain & Hughes 2011 Insect. Soc.).