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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Eco-evolutionary dynamics


The field of eco-evolutionary dynamics is an emerging field that focuses on the complex reciprocal interactions between ecological and evolutionary processes that occur at the same time scale -exploring how the experience of individuals operating within a dynamic ecological environment shapes the genetic evolution of their populations (and vice versa). There is increasing evidence from theoretical approaches and empirical studies that ecological and evolutionary processes are linked across different levels of organisation, ranging from individuals and populations to communities and whole ecosystems from local to regional and biogeographic scales. Rapid evolutionary change in species has the potential to transform population and community dynamics, affect biodiversity as well as the stability and functioning of whole ecosystems over longer timescales. However, disentangling to ecological and population genetic factors that drive observed dynamics in natural systems remains difficult.

Antarctic vent chimney
An island-like Antarctic vent chimney. Image: Dr Jon Copley

In the Marine Biology and Ecology Research group we have been actively contributing to this exciting and emerging field of research using a range of theoretical, empirical and field approaches.

Key Questions:

1. How do species traits vary within and among individuals across species distribution ranges? Can we identify critical life history windows where selection may act more strongly?

2. Understanding global biogeographic patterns using insular benthic habitats: why do we find particular species of animals occupying island-like habitats such as deep-sea hydrothermal vents in some regions but not elsewhere? How do animals disperse between these island-like habitats on the ocean floor?

3. How do organisms adapt to extreme environmental conditions and climate change?

4. Understanding global biodiversity patterns. What are the ecological and evolutionary drivers of the latitudinal diversity gradient and species range limits?

5. What are the ecological and evolutionary consequences of biological invasions?

Holeman et al. 2019
Detection of eight non-indigenous species across four sampling sites.

How do we do it?

  • We use natural stable isotope tracers to track the thermal history and metabolic response of individual fish in their natural environment. This allows us to identify whether genetically discrete populations display different thermal tolerances and preferences, and to explore whether thermal tolerances are genetically fixed or can vary according to the environmental experience of the individual.
  • To investigate the global biogeographic patterns, we use taxonomic approaches to describe current (new)species, collaborate with museums to develop historical baselines for species distributions and trait expression, and apply phylogenetic analyses to determine how species are related and distributed across biogeographic regions.
  • We use molecular tools, to reconstruct the adaptive responses of organisms to historical climate change and extreme environmental conditions, the distribution of non-indigenous or invasive species using eDNA.

Image right: Credit: Holeman et al. 2019

Links to other Research Themes

How does life originate, proliferate, and dissipate?

Dynamics of marine planktonic and microbial communities

Staff MemberPrimary Position
Dr Jon Copley Associate Professor in Ocean Exploration & Public Engagement
Dr Cecilia D'Angelo Lecturer in Marine Biology
Dr Tom Ezard Associate Professor in Evolutionary Ecology
Dr Phil Fenberg Lecturer in Marine Biology
Prof. Chris Hauton Professor of Marine Ecophysiology
Dr Clive Trueman Associate Professor in Marine Ecology
Dr Marc Rius Lecturer
Prof. Jörg Wiedenmann Professor of Biological Oceanography
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