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Andrew MacColl

Associate Professor of Evolutionary Ecology, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences

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Biography

B.Sc. Ecological Science, University of Edinburgh, 1990. Ph.D. University of Aberdeen, 1998. Research assistant, University of Cambridge 1990 -1994. Postdoctoral research assistant, University of Edinburgh, 1999. Postdoctoral research assistant, University of Sheffield, 2000 - 2003. Royal Society Travelling Fellow, University of British Columbia, Canada, 2004. NERC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Nottingham, 2005 - 2008. Lecturer, University of Nottingham, 2005 - 2013. Associate Professor, University of Nottingham, 2013 - present.

Research Summary

The main theme of our research is to understand the role of ecology in driving natural selection and how this can produce the divergent evolution between populations that accumulates into speciation.… read more

Selected Publications

Current Research

The main theme of our research is to understand the role of ecology in driving natural selection and how this can produce the divergent evolution between populations that accumulates into speciation. Our approach is based on the integration of theory, observation and experiment. We are interested in the relative importance of different selective agents in directing evolution. In general little is known about whether evolution is driven mainly by the abiotic environment or by ecological interactions such as competition, predation and parasitism. Classical ecology has focussed on the part played by competition between organisms in determining individual success (and hence evolution). Other ecological interactions have received less attention. Parasitism in particular has been poorly studied as a driver of evolution in host populations. Three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) are a good model species because they are common, widely distributed and easy to keep in the lab. A great deal is known about their natural history and genetics (their genome has been sequenced). They are particularly interesting because they exhibit a great deal of phenotypic and genetic diversity between populations. The photographs below show sticklebacks from different populations on the island of North Uist, Outer Hebrides. These are all lab raised fish of a similar age (7 months). The fish in the middle (a male in breeding condition) is from an anadromous (sea-going) population. Others are from different freshwater populations that have been established on North Uist in the last 10 - 20,000 years. Note that some freshwater populations have shown considerable morphological evolution in this time. Many have lost the (eponymous) dorsal spines and/or the pelvis spines that are present in the anadromous (and probable ancestral) population, as well as exhibiting rather different overall body shapes.

five sticklebacks

Morphological variation between five populations of three-spined sticklebacks on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides (photographs by Job de Roij).

We use three-spined sticklebacks to address the following kinds of general questions:

  1. What is the relationship between phenotypes and environments, and what does this reveal about the ecological causes of selection and evolution?
  2. Are patterns of adaptation determined by the environment alone, or constrained by genetic correlations between traits?
  3. When, and under what environmental conditions, does adaptive divergence between populations result in speciation?
  4. How important are parasites in driving the evolution of their hosts?
  5. What is the evolutionary significance of variation in parasite resistance that is seen in natural populations?
  6. What is the immunological and genetic basis of variation in parasite resistance?
  7. Does coevolutionary dynamism result in arms races between parasites and hosts that can lead in fundamentally unpredictable directions?

In addition to our research on natural selection and microevolution in natural populations we are interested in research lead approaches to understanding threats to species and habitats.

School of Life Sciences

University of Nottingham
Medical School
Queen's Medical Centre
Nottingham NG7 2UH

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