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Division of Biology

Michi Tobler, Professor

Michi Tobler

Contact information

304 Ackert Hall

Lab website: http://www.sulfide-life.info


Dr. Sci. Nat., 2008, University of Zürich, Institute of Zoology. Zoology.

Area(s) of Specialization

Adaptation and speciation, fish biology, extreme environments.

Research Focus

Research in my lab seeks to understand patterns in and mechanisms underlying biological diversification. The current research program integrates evolutionary analyses both vertically, across levels of biological organization, and horizontally, across evolutionarily replicated systems exposed to similar selective regimes. Vertical integration is requisite to gain a mechanistic understanding of how genomic variation translates to phenotypes and fitness of organisms in their natural environment. Horizontal integration allows for quantifying the relative importance of convergent and non-convergent evolution, ultimately contributing to the development of evolutionary theory into a more predictive science. Two key questions dominate our work: (1) How and why do organisms diversify phenotypically, and (2) how and why do reproductive barriers evolve between populations; i.e., under what circumstances can we observe speciation? We approach these questions by focusing on species that inhabit extreme environments and by quantifying genomic, phenotypic, and performance variation along environmental gradients. Generally, we strive to combine field-based studies with analytical and experimental approaches in the laboratory.

Most of our current work focuses on fishes of the family Poeciliidae as a study system. Various lineages of poeciliids that have colonized toxic, hydrogen sulfide (H2S) rich springs, and they provide a unique model to address a wide variety of questions in physiology, ecology, and evolution.

Selected Publications

Passow, C. N., A. P. Brown, L. Arias-Rodriguez, M.-C. Yee, A. Sockell, M. Schartl, W. C. Warren, C. Bustamante, J. L. Kelley & M. Tobler. 2017. Complexities of gene expression patterns in natural populations of an extremophile fish (Poecilia mexicana, Poeciliidae). Molecular Ecology 26 (16): 4211-4225.

Culumber, Z. W. & M. Tobler. 2017.  Sex-specific evolution during the diversification of livebearing fishesNature Ecology & Evolution 1 (8): 1185-1191.

Greenway, R., S. Drexler, L. Arias-Rodriguez & M. Tobler. 2016. Adaptive, but not condition-dependent, body shape differences contribute to assortative mating during ecological speciation. Evolution 70 (12): 2809-2822.

Tobler, M., C. N. Passow, R. Greenway, J. L. Kelley & J. H. Shaw. 2016. The evolutionary ecology of animals inhabiting hydrogen sulfide rich environments. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 47: 239-262.

Palacios, M., G. Voelker, L. Arias-Rodriguez, M. Mateos & M. Tobler. 2016. Phylogenetic analyses of the subgenus Mollienesia (Poecilia, Poeciliidae, Teleostei) reveal taxonomic inconsistencies, cryptic biodiversity, and spatio-temporal aspects of diversification in Middle America. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 103 (10): 230-244.

Kelley, J. L., L. Arias-Rodriguez, D. Patacsil Martin, M.-C. Yee, C. Bustamante & M. Tobler. 2016. Mechanisms underlying adaptation to life in hydrogen sulfide rich environments. Molecular Biology and Evolution 33 (6): 1419-1434.

Tobler, M., M. Plath, R. Riesch, I. Schlupp, A. Grasse, G. Munimanda, C. Setzer, D. J. Penn & Y. Moodley. 2014. Selection from parasites favors immunogenetic diversity but not divergence among locally adapted host populations. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 27 (5): 960-974.

Jeyasingh, P. D., R. D. Cothran & M. Tobler. 2014. Testing the ecological consequences of evolutionary change using elements. Ecology and Evolution 4 (4): 528-538.

Plath, M., M. Pfenninger, H. Lerp, R. Riesch, C. Eschenbrenner, P.A. Slattery, D. Bierbach, N. Herrmann, M. Schulte, L. Arias Rodriguez, J.R. Indy, C. Passow & M. Tobler. 2013. Genetic differentiation and selection against migrants in evolutionarily replicated extreme environments. Evolution 67 (9): 2647-2661.

Tobler, M., M. Palacios, L. J. Chapman, I. Mitrofanov, D. Bierbach, M. Plath, L. Arians-Rodriguez, F. J. Garcia de Leon & M. Mateos. 2011. Evolution in extreme environments: replicated phenotypic differentiation in livebearing fish inhabiting sulfidic springs. Evolution 65 (8): 2213-2228.

View the complete publication list in NCBI