The Friesen Lab Queens The Friesen Lab
Oceanodroma castro

Welcome to the homepage of the Friesen lab.

Research: My research group studies mechanisms of population differentiation, local adaptation and speciation in vertebrates, primarily seabirds. Many of our projects have direct or indirect applications to conservation. We are now employing genomic methods to address questions such as those outlined below (see People and Publications for many more examples of projects): 

Genomic mechanisms of local adaptation. New techniques in genomics and bioinformatics are providing unparalleled insights into formerly intractable puzzles in local adaptation. We are using a combination of whole genome sequencing, genome re-sequencing, reduced genome representation (RADseq) and candidate gene analysis to understand individual- and population-level variaition in plumage morphs (Anna Tigano), cold tolerance (Anna Tigano), breeding phenology (Becky Taylor), migration and personality (Drew Sauve). Many of these traits are important for adaptation to anthropogenic change.

Mechanisms of speciation. Birds encounter few physical barriers to dispersal and so seem to defy the classical model of speciation. Can speciation happen despite gene flow? If so, how? Or can non-physical barriers to dispersal disrupt gene flow sufficiently to initiate speciation? My research program is challenging several traditional views of mechanisms of population differentiation and speciation, especially questioning the importance of allopatric speciation (‘speciation without gene flow’). Most excitingly, Andrea Smith found clear evidence for sympatric speciation by allochrony (separation of populations by breeding time) in storm-petrels. Becky Taylor is continuing to examine the genomic basis for parallel evolution of seasonal races of storm-petrels.

Conservation. Many of our studies have either direct implications for conservation. For example, our work on marbled murrelets, Kittlitz’s murrelets (Tim Birt), Xantus’s murrelets (Tim Birt) and band-rumped storm-petrels has been used by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the European Taxonomic Commission in defining population units for conservation. Many projects also aid the delineation of 'designatable units' under the US ESA, and 'distinct population segments' under COSEWIC (e.g. Bronwyn Harkness, Nate Clark and Sarah Wallace). Some of our studies address more general conservation problems, such as the potential for adaptation to climate change in arctic seabirds.

Syntheses. Periodically I conduct meta-analyses to review the state of a particular field, identify emerging patterns, generate new hypotheses, and identify key problems for future research. Most recently I conducted a meta-analyses of phylogeographic studies of seabirds, which pointed to several factors other than physical barriers to dispersal that may disrupt gene flow in seabirds.

Systematics. Sound phylogenies are the foundation for solid studies of ecology, behaviour, and evolution. We have conducted comprehensive phylogenetic analyses of the Alcidae, Sulidae (Sam Patterson) and Hydrobatinae (Sarah Wallace). Furthermore, several of our population genetic studies resulted in taxonomic revisions, especially the recognition of cryptic species.

Molecular evolution. Many of our studies provide interesting insights into molecular evolution. For example, Hollie Walsh produced one of the first successful studies of the avian major histocompatability complex (Mhc), a notoriously difficult system to analyze. Jame Morris-Pocock and Scott Taylor found clear evidence of concerted evolution of tandemly duplicated copies of the mitochondrial control region in sulids. And Anna Tigano is currently investigating the genomic mechanisms linking brindling to cold tolerance in common murres.