|2003-2006||Graduate studies in Plant Sciences, University of Vienna|
|1998-2002||Undergraduate studies in Biochemistry, University of Oxford|
Previous Positions & Research Experience
|2007-2012||Postdoctoral researcher in Prof. Dr. Florian Schiestl laboratory. Group leader since 2010. Institute of Systematic Botany, University of Zurich, Switzerland.|
|2006-2009||Postdoctoral researcher in Prof. Dr. Ueli Grossniklaus laboratory Institute of Plant Biology, University of Zurich, Switzerland.|
|2006-2007||Postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Florian Schiestl laboratory Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Switzerland.|
There are various ways by which novel species can evolve. For instance, divergent selection by the environment can result in the establishment of reproductive isolation and, thereafter, the divergence of lineages. The likelihood of such divergence by ecological speciation is influenced by the complexity and genetic architecture of traits under divergent selection. In particular, a simple genetic basis of divergent traits is expected to facilitate speciation.
I am primarily interested in ecological speciation processes and the molecular basis of adaptive traits under divergent selection that contribute to reproductive isolation among lineages. Sexually deceptive orchids – such as the Mediterranean orchid genus Ophrys – provide an excellent study system for addressing these questions. Flowers of these orchids are not attractive to the majority of typical pollinators, because they neither offer nectar nor any other food reward. However, they specifically mimic the key (species-specific) sexual signals of pollinator females and can thereby attract male pollinators with very high specificity, such that one orchid species is typically only attractive to one (or very few) pollinator species. This reduced complexity of plant-pollinator interaction makes this system an appealing study system for ecological speciation, because different pollinators exert divergent selection on flowers and the signals necessary for pollinator attraction, leading to the swift establishment of strong reproductive isolation.
The key to the specificity of pollinator attraction by these orchids lies in their chemical mimicry of the pollinator female’s sex pheromone. My current research therefore focuses on the molecular basis of orchid traits involved in highly specific pollinator attraction, such as the biochemistry and population genetics of genes involved in the biosynthesis of pseudo-pheromones, also taking advantage of new technologies that enable genome-wide molecular analyses on the level of gene sequence and expression. On the other hand, I am also interested in the phenotypic effects of evolutionarily interesting candidate genes in the field, and how phenotypic selection acts on them. Integrating the use of genetic, genomic and biochemical tools with ecological field experiments, I work towards the identification and understanding of the functional genetic changes that are involved in reproductive isolation and speciation.
Mechanisms of adaptation and ecological speciation
I offer Master thesis topics in the following areas: the genetic and ecological basis of speciation, adaptation and pollinator attraction; the molecular biology and evolution of genes involved in phenotypic traits and adaptation; ecological population genetics, genomics and transcriptomics, especially of species divergence; orchid pollination biology, especially sexually deceptive orchids (Ophrys). If you are interested in a Master’s project in these areas, please contact me for further information.
FAMD - Fingerprint Analysis with Missing Data (Schlüter & Harris 2006). A program for the analysis of multilocus dominant genetic markers (e.g., AFLP, RAPD, ISSR). FAMD can be found here.