Theoretical evolution and ecology
The big picture question that we are pursuing is to understand the biodiversity: from the forces that generate it to the conditions that allow for its maintenance. More precisely, we study the conditions that promote the formation of new species and how the new species affect their environment.
There are many different mechanisms that can lead to the formation of new species. Ecological speciation is when reproductive isolation arises as a by-product of local adaptation. One classical example of such system is the Darwin's finches on the Galápagos island where selection of different size and shape of beak, driven by the size of the seeds available, influence the mating call of the male. We model that type of system and study different ecological (e.g. resource distribution) and evolutionary (e.g. plasticity) factors and their impacts on the mechanisms of biodiversity.
The role of the environment shaping the selective forces driving evolution is well established, but how evolutionary change impact the environment is a cutting edge biological problem. As speciation is occurring in the focal species, the food web can be modified as the focal species changes its mechanisms of predator avoidance or its diet. This modified environment will feedback on the evolutionary dynamics. Here we study such eco-evolutionary feedback in different applied and fundamental context.
Anyone interested in this research is welcome to contact Xavier Thibert-Plante.