Using genomics and natural history collections to understand adaptation to environmental change

Photo by Colin Ruggiero.

Rapid environmental change threatens global biodiversity and has already led to the decline or extirpation of many taxa. Although phenotypic plasticity may enable populations to rapidly track changing climates, evolutionary adaptation will be essential for the long-term persistence of many species.

Disentangling plasticity from evolutionary responses ultimately requires resolving the genetic basis of adaptation. However, it remains challenging to differentiate recent or ongoing positive selection from stochastic genetic changes in populations that are also undergoing extreme demographic changes. Natural history museum collections may hold the key to overcoming many of these difficulties by providing crucial temporal and spatial information on species distributions, phenotypes, and population genetic variation spanning periods of recent environmental change.

I will discuss our ongoing efforts to recover high quality genomic data from archived specimens and to develop sophisticated analytical approaches suitable for such data. Using examples from chipmunks and snowshoe hares, I illustrate population genomics can be used to dissect the genetic basis of ecologically important traits, and to detect rapid evolutionary responses over timescales relevant to anthropogenic climate change.

The central goal of my research is to understand the origin of biological diversity. My research program addresses fundamental questions on the origin of species, the genetic basis of ecological adaptation, and the evolution of mammalian reproduction. Focusing primarily on mammalian systems, we combine comparative and population genomic studies with systems genetic analyses of laboratory models to understanding the genetic basis of speciation and adaptation.

Date & time

12–1pm 2 May 2019


CSIRO Discovery, Clunies Ross St, Canberra


Jeff Good, University of Montana


 Leo Joseph

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