Eco-Evo-Geno

  • Invasion genetics:

    The Baker and Stebbins Legacy

    Wiley Amazon.ca Amazon.com

Inflorescence of Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife) (© Colautti Lab).

Change is Constant

The Colautti Lab investigates rapid evolution in a changing world

Human activity is causing rapid changes to the earth's ecosystems, benefitting some species with adverse effects on others. We investigate how human activity is changing genes, genomes and phenotypic traits of species in nature, and how this in turn affects the viability of species. Our approach combines cutting-edge advances in genomics and computational biology with experiments in controlled and natural environments. We think knowledge from these experiments can help improve human health and management of ecosystem services threatened by global change.


Research Methods

Clockwise from top left: 1. Boechera retrofracta rosette in prototype imaging chamber; 2. Sequence alignment close-up; 3. Transplanting for large growth chamber experiment; 4. Illumina HiSeq Next-Generation DNA Sequencer (© Illumina)

Genetics

Decoding the Building Blocks of Life

We use high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics to probe genetic variation underlying ecologically important traits and to understanding the complex relationship between genoype, phenotype, and the environment. Our ultimate goal is to understand how naturally-occurring genetic variants affect survial and reproductive rates (i.e. performance) under a variety of natural environments.

Lythrum salicaria a.k.a. purple loosestrife growing in a common garden study at the Koffler Scientific Reserve (University of Toronto). See Colautti and Barrett (2013)

Ecology

Our research begins and ends in the field

Observations of organisms in natural and human-altered environments underpin our research in ecological genomics and evolutionary ecology. To investigate genes in nature we rely on field surveys and experimental manipulations at Queen's University Biological Station (QUBS) and other field sites around the world. These are complemented with the analysis of 'Big Data' characterizing aspects of the natural environment and human activity at regional to global scales.

Fitness surface from Colautti and Barrett (2010)

Evolution

The Theoretical Foundation of Modern Biology

From the elegant simplicity of the Price Equation to the profound complexity of living systems, evolutionary theory provides a robust scientific foundation to develop a better understanding of the structure, function and dynamics of living systems.


Main Research Projects

tick
Dissected deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) exposing gut microbes and salivary glands (© Colautti Lab)

Ticks & tick-borne diseases

In situ detection, characterization, and risk assessment of tick-borne pathogens

Rates of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are rapidly increasing in Canada and the United States. To better address this growing threat to human health, we are taking a multidisciplinary and integrated approach for in situ detection, characterization, and risk management of tick-borne pathogens. The objectives of this project are:

  1. Screen for known pathogens and identify environmental factors affecting disease risk.
  2. Develop and test field protocols and analytical tools for in situ microbiome analysis of tick, human and pet samples. This includes identification of known pathogens including distinct strains of Borrelia (the causative agent of Lyme disease).
  3. Build bioinformatics tools to match microbial DNA sequences between ticks and bite victims to identify candidates for new and emerging pathogens.
  4. Develop new risk assessment tools that, for medical educators, public health officials, and the affected populace, using updated models of risk of tick-borne pathogens.
Media coverage:

Queen's Gazette | May 2019 Press Release

Overhead view of ~4,000 Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife) plants growing in a common garden study at Queen's University Biological Station (QUBS) (© Colautti Lab)

Invasive Species and Evolution: Establishment and Spread

Rapid evolution facilitates invasion of invasive purple loosestrife

Climate and biotic interactions (e.g. herbivores, pollinators) can dramatically affect survival and reproduction in plants. We are combining genome and transcriptome sequencing with a large field experiment at the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS) to understand ecological and genetic factors that promote or constrain rapid adaptation in invasive Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife). This research helps to understand the role that evolution plays in the spread of invasive species.

Media coverage:

CBC | Popular Science | io9

tick
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) growing in a common garden experiment at the Queen's University Biological Station (QUBS) (© Colautti Lab)

Invasive Species and Evolution: Impact

Do ecological impacts of garlic mustard evolve?

The invasive plant Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) engages in a natural form of biochemical warfare, secreting chemicals that can harm native plants directly and also indirectly by changing soil microbial communities. We are using genomic tools and field experiments at QUBS to investigate the effects of different garlic mustard genotypes on soil microbial communities. In short, we are examining how evolution affects the impact of invasive species.

Collecting seeds from native plants in the Northwest Territories (© Pippa Seccombe-Hett)

P-PLANTs Project

Predicting Plant Local Adaptation in the Northwest Territories

A major challenge for resource extraction and industrial development in Northern Canada is lack of access to biological resources for restoring disturbed habitats to near-pristine states.

The P-PLANTs project is a collaboration with the Aurora Research Institute in the Northwest Territories. We are applying genomic tools and field studies to characterize population genetic structure in native species used in restoration and reclamation projects. Many of these species can be difficult to distinguish based on morphological characteristics, and the extent to which populations are differentiated and adapted to local conditions is largely unknown. Our research will help restoration projects maintain the integrity of locally adapted populations.