Michael Pfrender in the Lab

Ecological Genomics, Adaptation in Natural Populations, Plasticity

Michael Pfrender

e-mail     labpage
Associate Professor

B.S. University of Michigan
M.S. University of Michigan
Ph.D. University of Oregon

Postdoctoral Oregon State University



Department of Biological Sciences
University of Notre Dame
109B Galvin Life Sciences
Notre Dame, IN 46556

PH# (574) 631-0591

Our lab is interested in a broad range of topics in the area of evolutionary and ecological genomics. These topics range from detailed investigation of the molecular genetic basis of adaptive traits and phenotypic plasticity, to the relationship between genetic diversity and ecosystem function. We are particularly interested in the relationship between short-term organismal responses to environmental stresses and long-term adaptive changes in novel environments.

Ultimately, we are trying to connect genome structure, quantitative genetic architecture, and patterns of gene expression and gene evolution, with the process of, and limits to, adaptation in changing environments. Anthropogenic influences have created an environmental context of rapidly changing environments. There are many unresolved questions at multiple levels of biological organization that confront the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology. How will populations, species, and communities of organisms respond to novel species introductions and rapidly changing abiotic conditions? Can we predict the probability of adaptations and long-term persistence?  Understanding the impacts of alterations in natural ecosystems, and using this knowledge to predict future consequences and preserve biodiversity, is a major challenge for 21st century biologists with direct relevance to human health and well-being.

The majority of our work utilizes the ecological genomic model organism Daphnia. Functional genomic tools and an expanding community of researchers fostered by the Daphnia Genomics Consortium (http://daphnia.cgb.indiana.edu/) complement a rich history of ecological investigation in Daphnia. Recent advances in genomics for Daphnia include a complete genome sequence for Daphnia pulex and functional genomic tools like high-density arrays for gene expression studies. We are developing recombinant lines for QTL-mapping and SNP arrays for mapping and population genomic studies. We are applying these tools to a number of areas of investigation including our ongoing work in high-elevation lakes in the Sierra Nevada of California, USA. In this system we are investigating the evolutionary responses of invertebrate species to salmonid fish introductions, the genetic basis of phenotypic plasticity, the evolutionary genetics of pigmentation.  Other ongoing projects are investigation the evolution of salinity tolerance, the evolution of senescence, the genomic consequences of ecological speciation, and the relationship between genome structure/function and ecological context. In particular, we are interested in the process of transcriptional neofunctionalization in expanded gene families.

Other focal areas in our group include the analysis of sodium channel evolution in response to coevolutionary interaction between predators and toxic prey, and the development of genetic approaches to quantifying biodiversity in freshwater invertebrate communities.

Selected Publications

Feldman CR, ED Brodie, JR., ED Brodie, III, and ME Pfrender. 2009. Testing the evolutionary origins of beneficial alleles during the repeated adaptation of garter snakes (Thamnophis) to deadly prey. PNAS 106:13415-13420.

Parnell JJ, TA Crowl, BC Weimer, and ME Pfrender. 2009. Biodiversity in microbial communities: system scale patterns and mechanisms. Molecular Ecology 18:1455-1462.

Fisk D, LC Latta, IV, RA Knapp, and ME Pfrender. 2007. Rapid evolution in response to introduced predators I: Rates and patterns of morphological and life-history trait divergence. BMC Evolutionary Biology 7:22. (Designated as Highly Accessed)

Latta LC, IV, J Bakelar*, RA Knapp, and ME Pfrender. 2007. Rapid evolution in response to introduced predators II: The contribution of adaptive plasticity. BMC Evolutionary Biology 7:21.

Arnold SJ, ME Pfrender, and AG Jones. 2001. The adaptive landscape as a conceptual bridge between micro- and macroevolution. Genetica 112-113:9-32.

Pfrender ME, and M Lynch. 2000. Quantitative genetic variation in Daphnia: temporal changes in genetic architecture. Evolution 54:1502-1509.

Pfrender ME, K Spitze, and N Lehman. 2000. Multi-locus evidence for rapid ecologically-based speciation in Daphnia. Molecular Ecology 9:1717-1735.