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 and speciation in vertebrates, primarily seabirds. Many of our projects have direct or indirect applications to conservation. We are now employing genomics methods to address questions such as those outlined below: 

Mechanisms of population differentiation and 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, former Ph.D. student Andrea Smith, visiting Ph.D. student Elena Gomez-Diaz and collaborators found clear evidence for sympatric speciation by allochrony (separation of populations by breeding time) in storm-petrels. We (former M.Sc. student Petra Deane, Ph.D. student Tobias Langguth) are 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, Xantus’s murrelets 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. Some of our studies address more general conservation problems; for example, Ph.D. student Anna Tigano is assessing 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, former post-doctoral fellows Theresa Burg and Karen McCoy and I conducted a meta-analysis 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 and Oceanodrominae. 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, former M.Sc. student Hollie Walsh produced one of the first successful studies of the avian major histocompatability complex (MHC), a notoriously difficult system to analyze. Her results revealed that auklets possess at least two functional copies of the Class II B locus that undergo concerted evolution, and that alleles are shared between species that have been isolated for approx. 5 my. Former Ph.D. students James Morris-Pocock and Scott Taylor also found clear evidence of concerted evolution of tandemly duplicated copies of the mitochondrial control region in sulids.