Research

a selection

Multi-species Population Genetics/Genomics

High-throughput sequencing (HTS) of taxon assemblages makes it possible to test hypotheses relating to regional patterns of demographic stability, isolation, and admixture. We developed a strategy to infer intraspecific genetic diversity from bulk invertebrate samples using metabarcoding data (Elbrecht et al 2018). It allows us to identify potentially isolated populations and potential taxa for further more detailed phylogeographic investigation. Such metabarcoding informed haplotyping holds great promise for biomonitoring efforts that not only seek information about biological diversity but also underlying genetic diversity. In addition it will allow us to develop multi-taxa population genomic models to understand community assembly, colonization, and vicariance based on population-level sequencing data collected across entire taxonomic assemblages.

Species Distribution Modelling and Spatial Mapping

Large data sets generated by HTS can address current challenges in Species Distribution Modelling while extended matrix regression models (e.g. generalized dissimilarity modelling) can analyse and predict spatial patterns of turnover in community composition. I am using data generated for two large-scale arthropod sampling programs (55 Provincial Parks in Ontario and agricultural sites in Ontario in collaboration with OMAFRA and the ALUS network) to predict special diversity and to combine metabarcoding results with ancillary information, such as trait data, to develop process-based models that can identify the functional composition of any location. Expected distributions of ecosystem functions and services can be mapped accordingly. 

Bees@School

This project teams up with 100 high school classrooms each year to provide critical information on the changing geographic distributions of plant-pollinator interactions across Canada, and be of considerable benefit to everyone as pollinator-dependent foods make up about a third of our diet. By combining state-of-the-art DNA barcoding of bees, and the pollen they carry, with distribution and climate change data, we will show how distributions of Canada’s bee species are changing along with climate. The project will also determine how pollination services shift across Canada, with impacts on food production and landscape management advice to improve vital species chances of persisting in agricultural landscapes and alleviating pollination deficits. This program will provide exciting, hands-on, technologically-savvy, and scientifically-relevant educational experiences for high school students to inspire the next generation to attend to, appreciate, and benefit from pollinators and pollination.

Mito-nuclear Interactions

Functional incompatibility between mitochondrial- and nuclear-encoded components of the co-adapted gene complex responsible for oxidative phosphorylation is increasingly recognized as an important cause of post-zygotic isolation. The need for coadaptation, the challenge of co-transmission, and the possibility of genomic conflict between mitochondrial and nuclear genes has profound consequences for the ecology and evolution of eukaryotic life. The barcode database provides measures of intra-specific variation from individuals chosen to represent the distributional geographic range of each species and is perfectly suited for locating source populations of varying genetic divergence for testing fitness effects of inter-population hybrid crosses.  The framework readily provides the opportunity to initiate parallel programs to quantify the role and frequency of the OXPHOS pathway in contributing to outbreeding depression for a diversity of animal life.  Such an effort will not only provide important theoretical insights into the process of speciation, but will also benefit the barcode community by providing biologically meaningful information for fine-tuning genetic thresholds used to flag provisional species or in the assignment of operational taxonomic units. By looking at transcription (or translation) profiles of hybrids of varyingly divergent populations one could begin to understand where the OXPHOS system begins to break down and causes post-zygotic isolation in different groups of taxa. 

Functional biodiversity and specific ecosystem functions

Current evaluations of farmland biodiversity are often limited to indirect broad-scale multispecies assessments of terrestrial vertebrates such as the AAFC Wildlife Capacity on Farmland Indicator or observations of farmland birds or butterfly populations as applied across the EU. Administrators and the public are often interested in rare species with conservation status, but there is no consistent information on the status of more common species, despite the fact that these are usually providing ecosystem services or are the cause of damage and yield loss.
This project seeks to accelerate the practical assessment of farmland functional biodiversity, with the ultimate goal to make functional biodiversity estimates and assessments both cheap and scalable. Combining metabarcoding data with computable trait information will allow for a more functional approach to mapping diversity, and will lead to the development of indicators that are sensitive to farming practices. Species-level trophic guild data will help to translate DNA sequences acquired standard arthropod traps into an inventory of biotic agents – pollinators, grazers, predators, parasitoids, parasites, disease vectors, seed dispersers, and so on – which can be tracked over time with repeated bulk sampling.