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Research in our lab studies the genetic basis of inbreeding and outbreeding depression in fitness traits, and aims to identify the sources of genetic variation at the genetic loci responsible for inbreeding and outbreeding depression. Thereby, our research contributes to an understanding of the genetics of fitness variation. Inbreeding and outbreeding depression are important phenomena in evolutionary biology and are of large interest in applied conservation genetics. For example, inbreeding depression is invoked to explain aspects of important biological phenomena such as dispersal strategies and mating systems. Understanding the genetic architecture of inbreeding and outbreeding depression is also crucial to the conservation management of wild and captive populations of endangered species. However, we still do not know much about the genetic architecture of inbreeding and outbreeding depression, particularly in wild populations.

Research Questions

The following overarching questions describe some of the topics we aim to address with our research. How many loci with small effects and how many loci with large effects are responsible for inbreeding depression in wild populations? What are the dominance and epistatic effects of these loci? Is the genetic variation at these loci coming from immigration or mutation, or how else is this genetic variation maintained? What are the fitness consequences of immigration? How are these fitness consequences of immigration caused genetically, i.e. what is the genetic basis of outbreeding depression and heterosis in wild populations? How general are answers to all these questions, and how are they affected by dispersal? Do the answers differ between populations of the same species or between different species? How does the genetic basis of inbreeding and outbreeding depression affect the balance between the positive and negative consequences of gene flow among differentiated populations, i.e. heterosis and outbreeding depression? Under what conditions is genetic rescue through translocation of individuals of endangered populations promising?

Methods & Study Systems

We address these questions by combining empirical data from wild populations with theoretical results from simulation studies. We thus use a variety of methods ranging from data collection in the field, genetic and genomic analysis, computer simulations, theory, and statistical approaches. Currently, our main empirical systems are small wild populations of birds and mice.

A color-banded song sparrow on Mandarte Island.

We work with international collaborators on a long-term study of song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) on Mandarte Island, British Columbia, Canada, which has been running since 1975. Thanks to the small size of the island, all individuals inhabiting the island are color-banded and censused each summer. Location of nests and collection of samples for DNA analysis allows for reconstruction of a detailed multi-generation pedigree and genetic and genomic analysis.

We recently started working on North American deermouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) populations inhabiting the Canadian Gulf Islands. Deermouse populations on different islands are much more strongly isolated from each other than song sparrow populations, presenting an opportunity to study the consequences of long-term genetic isolation in the wild.

We are collaborating with Charles Thompson and Scott Sakaluk on research in a local house wren (Troglodytes aedon) population. This nestbox population is situated along the Mackinaw River northeast of Normal and has been studied since 1980. More information about this population can be found on the website of Charles Thompson here.

Our lab is generally interested in evolutionary and conservation genetics and genomics. Students and collaborators are welcome to discuss research proposals using other datasets or study systems.

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