Keeping the pace of evolution with Celine Teplitsky
Céline Teplitsky is a researcher at the Centre of Functional and Evolutive Ecology (A CNRS facility) in Montpellier (France). Her research area is evolutionary biology, with conservation purpose, and she mainly works on birds. We had the pleasure to have her as an invited speaker so she could talk about her research and the latest studies that are being done in her laboratory. Although she does not usually teach in an academic environment she caught all of our attention.
During the first part of her presentation, she mainly talked about adaptation of wild populations to various selection pressures. Indeed, two mechanisms of adaptation can occur and act on the phenotype of the individuals of one population. It can be evolutionary, and in this case the phenotypic change is due to the genes. Or, it can be plasticity, and in this case the change is due to the environment. Plasticity occurs more rapidly than selection through evolution. However adaptation of a population through evolutionary processes can also occur rapidly. Therefore, the differentiation between these two mechanisms is generally unclear. Through diverse examples, mainly on birds, she showed us the techniques that allow us to define which one of these two mechanisms is acting on the population.
Céline is keen on using this “G-Matrix” approach. Basically it is a matrix of additive genetic variances and covariances. In other words, it describes to what extent traits have genetic variation and whether or not different traits are genetically correlated with one another. Genetic variance is necessary for traits to evolve, so the G-matrix tells us whether or not traits will evolve. Traits that are genetically correlated with one another don’t evolve independently, so the G-matrix also describes whether or not groups of traits will evolve together.
As she explained at the end of the lecture, because she didn’t want to use this, I quote, “scary word” right at the beginning, this whole presentation was actually about quantitative genetics. But this study area shouldn’t frighten people because it’s, I quote, “fun” and has some important purposes. In fact in conservation biology, most genetic management recommendations for endangered species arise from quantitative genetic considerations.
The implications of her work are also quite enormous, because, although it looks like a very romantic approach to science -Evolution of birds: observing nature through a pair of lenses- which reminds us of Darwin’s work, it is actually applicable to predicting future state of species under forecasted global climate scenarios, giving us an answer to the question of whether species will be able to adapt quickly enough or go extinct in the process.
Audrey Delhomme & Christian Requena Mesa