The MacColl Lab

University of Nottingham


Research outline: We are a whole organism evolutionary ecology lab. We are fascinated by the diversity of life and the processes that drive adaptive radiation in contemporary wild populations. Mainly we study the three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus. At present we are trying to understand how adaptation to environmental variation and change comes about (or does not) through both in situ evolution and the movement (migration) of individuals and lineages. These problems come into sharp focus when considering why adaptation fails at species distributional limits as well as why organisms make seasonal or permanent migrations between environments. We are increasingly interested in how these questions may be mediated by underlying variation in energetic supply and demand, and this is leading us to study the organismal consequences of mitochondrial variation, diet and elemental composition.

Developments in genetic technology mean that the study of evolution has entered an extraordinary new period of discovery. Genome sequencing is rapidly revealing the proximate, genetic basis for trait variation and evolution. This complements an opportunity to further our comprehension of the ultimate causes of evolution, which can only come from a better understanding of the ecological context in which evolution takes place. Advance in this area depends on the adoption of model systems that span the range of cutting-edge techniques from sequencing to manipulative ecological experiments. The three-spined stickleback provides such a system. We combine observational ecology, analysis of long-term datasets, and field, lab and mesocosm experiments with quantitative and molecular genetics.

Lab news:

Welcome to Megan Barnes who will begin a NERC Envision PhD in October on "The ecological and evolutionary significance of functional variation in mitochondria in stickleback".

Congratulations to Mahmuda Begum, who has submitted her PhD "Environmental Adaptation in Three-Spined Stickleback" and awaits her viva.

Welcome to Henry Lewis who will begin an MRes in October on variation in fatty acid metabolism in Uist stickleback.

Recent lab papers include:
Our major study comparing patterns of environmental, phenotypic and genomic variation across four radiations of freshwater stickleback in Scotland, Iceland, British Columbia and Alaska, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
A paper in Science on how DNA fragility can elevate mutation rates and contribute to parallel evolution. *Highly cited*.
A paper in Science on the effects of temperature and precipitation on natural selection. *Highly cited*.
Laura Dean's exploration of variation in mating behaviour among Uist stickleback populations.
Jim Whiting's very nice, experimental paper showing how exposure to different day lengths affects immune system function and susceptibility to parasite infection.
Laura Dean's paper on admixture and speciation in stickleback in a stickleback, in Mol. Biol. Evol.
A collaboration with Daniel Berner's lab in Basel, documenting parallel adaptation to pH variation on North Uist, in Evolution Letters.
A paper by Stuart Young on the relationship between gene expression and cytokine levels in wild mice.


School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, U.K.

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Funders: NERC, BBSRC, NESCent, FSBI, The Leverhulme Trust

External links:
School of Life Sciences
Behaviour and Ecology Group, Nottingham,