Dr. Jennifer Sunday

Post Doctoral Researcher

Simon Fraser University


Local Adaptation in Marine Invertebrates

My Research Interests

With few physical barriers to oceanic dispersal, it is challenging to understand how local adaptation and speciation might occur among marine taxa with substantial pelagic larval durations. Yet intrinsic species processes, such as sexual conflict, may lead to rapid evolution of fertilization proteins in some broadcast spawners, potentially resulting in reproductive isolation between populations. Along British Columbia’s coast, Mike Hart (SFU) and I have shown that populations of the bat star (Patiria miniata) separated by historical vicariance and present-day oceanographic currents appear to have undergone localized positive selection at a key fertilization protein involved in sperm-egg recognition. In addition, reproductive compatibility between populations is lower than within, and can be related to allelic variation at the fertilization protein locus. We are currently investigating further sperm-egg interactions and patterns of larval advection that can explain how these patterns arose.

Our world is changing faster than ever, posing new challenges for life on Earth. How will

organisms and communities across the globe respond to a changing climate? My research

addresses this question by focusing on critical knowledge gaps in climate change ecology. I am particularly interested in understanding what factors currently determine species distributions, and how these may be generalized in a useful way for improving predictions of species range shifts. I am also interested in the potential for species to adapt evolutionarily to climate change within the time frames available.  My research spans marine and terrestrial biota, at small and large spatial scales, as I believe there is strength in crossing scales and systems for the strongest levels inference.


Evolutionary Responses to Ocean Acidification

Global patterns of thermal tolerance and geographic responses to climate change

I am interested in understanding how marine organisms will respond evolutionarily to anthropogenic changes in temperature and CO2. To get an idea of the efficiency with which marine taxa may be able to adapt to ocean acidification, my collaborators (Chris Harley, Mike Hart, and Ryan Crim) and I took a quantitative genetics approach to quantify the heritability of traits involved in growth under future ocean pH conditions. These estimates showed that the sea urchins had a greater potential to adapt than the mussels we investigated.  This work also emphasized the importance of estimating the fitness consequences of physiological responses - a critically important direction for this field.

Global patterns of animals’ temperature tolerance limits and their latitudinal distributions are important for predicting biological impacts of climate warming. In collaboration with Nicholas Dulvy (Simon Fraser University) and Amanda Bates (University of Tasmania), I have developed a global data set on thermal tolerance limits and species’ range distributions which includes both marine and terrestrial ectotherms. Our work has shown that terrestrial ectotherms living at higher latitudes have similar heat tolerance to those in desert and tropical latitudes. By contrast, marine ectotherms have heat tolerance limits that decline with latitude, more closely following the expectation. We have also shown that marine species fill their potential latitudinal ranges much better than terrestrial species, who do not generally occupy the warmer reaches of their potential ranges. These patterns have multiple explanations, and provide specific predictions on how terrestrial and marine species will respond differently to climate warming. In a second data set, we have shown that range contractions and expansions in response to climate warming have been consistent with these predictions - terrestrial species are responding less at their warm range boundaries.

Sunday, J.M. and M.W. Hart. 2013. Sea star populations diverge by positive selection at a sperm-egg compatibility locus. Ecology and Evolution. DOI:10.1002/ece3.487


Keever, C., J. Sunday, J. Puritz, J. Addison, R. Toonen, R. Grosberg, M. Hart. 2009.  Discordant distribution of populations and genetic variation in a sea star with high dispersal potential.  Evolution.  63(12): 3214-3237.

Sunday, J., L. Raeburn*, H. Stewart*, and M.W. Hart. 2008. Allelic inheritance in naturally occurring parthenogenetic offspring of the gonochoric sea star Patiria miniataInvertebrate Biology. 128(3): 276-282.

Sunday J., L. Raeburn*, and M. Hart.  2008. Emerging infectious disease in sea stars: castrating ciliate parasites in Patiria miniata. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms. 81: 173-176.

Keever, C., J. Sunday, C. Wood*, M. Byrne, and M. Hart. 2008. Microsatellite Cross-Amplification in Asterinid Sea Stars. Biological Bulletin. 215: 164-172.

Hart, M. and J. Sunday.  2007. Things fall apart: biological species form unconnected parsimony networks. Biology Letters 3: 605-512.

Why are some species moving faster than others?

One common observation among studies of species range shifts in response to climate warming as been that not all species move at the same pace. This variation may be attributable in part to species variation in ecological and life-history traits. I am currently working to understand the potential role of species traits in determining range shift responses using a comprehensive dataset from the rapidly warming hotspot of Southeast Australia. Because this region has experience climate warming 3-4 times greater than the global average, it can provide a useful “window” into how range shifts will proceed at a global scale.  This projects is part of an ANNiMS (Australian National Network in Marine Science) Springboard initiative under the leadership of Prof. Stewart Frusher at the University of Tasmania.

* indicates undergraduate coauthors mentored in our laboratory

Climate Change Ecology

Sunday J.M., A.E. Bates, N.K. Dulvy. 2012. Thermal tolerance and the global redistribution of animals. Nature Climate Change. Published online May 27. doi:10.1038/nclimate1539


Media release

Sunday J.M., R.N. Crim, C.D. Harley, M.W. Hart. 2011. Quantifying Rates of Evolutionary Adaptation in Response to Ocean Acidification. PLOS One. 6(8) e22881.


Nature news blog

Other coverage

Sunday J.M., A.E. Bates, N.K. Dulvy. 2011. Global analysis of thermal tolerance and latitude in ectotherms.  Proc. R. Soc. B. (2011) 278, 1823–1830.

media coverage

radio interview

Crim, RN, J.M. Sunday, C.D. Harley. 2011. Elevated CO2 concentrations impair larval development and reduce larval survival in endangered Northern abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana).  Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology400 (1-2), Pages 272-277.

media coverage

Population Genetics and Evolution