The dynamics of genetic and non-genetic factors in an extended evolutionary paradigm

Many biological systems consist of multiple interacting units. Classical examples are genes in a genome, individuals in a population, or species in a community. Other systems consist of units that are not as easily defined, or that are in themselves not biological, such as host-microbiome complexes, niches, behaviors, or technologies. Many of these systems share common processes, like random drift or selection. In our research, we explore the dynamics of a range of such systems, with particular focus on the interactions between them. To do so, we combine perspectives grounded in ecology and evolution with analytical approaches and computational tools. This approach has proven fruitful in stepping beyond the description of biological systems, toward uncovering causal mechanisms that underlie observed patterns. We apply this approach to topics from basic to applied science, from evolution and behavioral ecology to conservation biology and medicine.

We explore areas in which our understanding of the key drivers of observed dynamics is limited. These research areas consist of questions such as: How do non-genetic factors, like culture, interact with genetics in a species’ adaptation to evolutionary challenges? How often does a species’ adaptation to an evolutionary challenge occur via changes in the composition of its microbiome? For example, does the gut microbiome provide lactose tolerance in some humans? How do species’ behaviors, demography, and genetics change in response to their environment and perturbations to it? Gaining insight into these systems’ underpinnings will change the way we conceptualize, interpret, and potentially intervene in ecological and evolutionary processes.