Welcome to the homepage of the Friesen lab

My research group studies mechanisms of population differentiation, local adaptation and speciation in vertebrates, primarily seabirds. Many of our projects have direct or indirect applications to conservation. We are now employing genomic methods to address questions such as those outlined below (see People and Publications for many more examples of projects).

  • Genomic mechanisms of local adaptation. New techniques in genomics and bioinformatics are providing unparalleled insights into formerly intractable puzzles in local adaptation. We are using a combination of whole genome sequencing, genome re-sequencing, reduced genome representation (RADseq) and quantitative genetics to understand individual- and population-level variaition in plumage morphs (Anna Tigano), cold tolerance (Anna Tigano), and breeding phenology (Becky Taylor, Drew Sauve). Many of these traits are important for adaptation to anthropogenic change.
  • Mechanisms of 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, my graduate students (Andrea Smith and Rebecca Taylor) have found clear evidence for muliple cases of sympatric speciation by allochrony (separation of populations by breeding time) in storm-petrels.
  • Conservation. Many of our studies have either direct implications for conservation. For example, our work on marbled murrelets, Kittlitz’s murrelets (Tim Birt), Xantus’s murrelets (Tim Birt) 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. Many projects also aid the delineation of ‘designatable units’ under the US ESA, and ‘distinct population segments’ under COSEWIC (e.g. Bronwyn Harkness and Sarah Wallace), or provide population markers for assessing impacts of winter mortality on breeding colonies (Anna Tigano, Lila Colston-Nepali). Some of our studies address more general conservation problems, such as the potential for adaptation to climate change in Arctic seabirds.
  • Syntheses. Periodically we 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 we conducted meta-analyses of anthropogenic effects on levels of genetic variation in wild populations (Debbie Leigh), the genomics of adaptation with gene flow (Anna Tigano), the role of allochrony in speciation (Rebecca Taylor), and mechanisms of speciation 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 (Sam Patterson) and Hydrobatinae (Sarah Wallace). 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, Hollie Walsh produced one of the first successful studies of the avian major histocompatability complex (Mhc), a notoriously difficult system to analyze. Jame Morris-Pocock and Scott Taylor found clear evidence of concerted evolution of tandemly duplicated copies of the mitochondrial control region in sulids. And Anna Tigano is currently investigating the genomic mechanisms linking bridling to cold tolerance in common murres.