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Division of Biology

Michi Tobler, Associate Professor

Michi Tobler

Contact information

304 Ackert Hall
(785) 532-6652

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

Tobler, M., C. Henpita, B. Bassett, J. L. Kelley & J. H. Shaw. 2014. H2S exposure elicits differential expression of candidate genes in fish adapted to sulfidic and non-sulfidic environments. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology 175: 7-14.

Pfenninger, M., H. Lerp, M. Tobler, C. Passow, J. L. Kelley, E. Funke, B. Greshake, U. K. Erkoc, T. Berberich & M. Plath. 2014. Parallel evolution of cox-genes in H2S-tolerant fish as key adaptation to a toxic environment. Nature Communications 5:3873.

Riesch, R. W., M. Plath, I. Schlupp, M. Tobler & B. Langerhans. 2014. Colonization of toxic environments drives predictable life-history evolution in livebearing fishes (Poeciliidae). Ecology Letters 17 (1): 65-71.

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.

Kelley, J. L., C. N. Passow, M. Plath, L. Arias Rodriguez, M.-C. Yee & M. Tobler. 2012. Genomic resources for a model in adaptation and speciation research: characterization of the Poecilia mexicana transcriptome. BMC Genomics 13: 652.

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.

Tobler, M., Z. W. Culumber, M. Plath, K. O. Winemiller & G. G. Rosenthal. 2011. An indigenous religious ritual selects for resistance to a toxicant in a livebearing fish. Biology Letters 7 (2): 229-232.

View the complete publication list in NCBI