Ben Sandkam wins Quirks and Quarks Award!
Congratulations to Ben Sandkam of the Breden lab, whose PhD thesis "Beauty in the Eyes of the Beholders: Colour Vision and Mate Choice in the Family Poeciliidae," has earned the Quirks and Quarks Graduate Award for Best PhD Thesis!
Ben studied sexual selection in guppies, and his thesis work was characterized by its integrative approach to the problem. His work ranged from field studies in Guyana and Trinidad, to behavioural ecology, to molecular biology (sequencing and cloning opsin genes from guppy retinas to investigate gene expression). He published a new Hybrid Sensory Expansion hypothesis in the journal Evolution, and his research on opsin expression was published in Molecular Ecology (he published a total of 9 papers from his thesis work). Ben is currently pursuing post-doctoral research at the University of Maryland.
Here's how Ben summarizes his work:
"For my PhD, I developed an integrated programme to discover the genetic effects of mate preferences, a powerful force shaping animal evolution and diversity. My work revealed that guppy colour vision co-varies with mate-preferences across natural populations (Sandkam et al 2015a), showing that mate preference can shape sensory genes and ability. I also revealed that colour vision differs more across populations than across species (Sandkam et al 2015b), a startling result given that colour vision was assumed to be fixed within species. My results are key to explaining how mate preferences evolve and diverge across populations, and led me to develop the Hybrid Sensory Expansion (HSE), which posits that hybrid offspring exhibit a wider range of tuning than their parental species (Sandkam et al. 2013).
I also discovered that the genomic architecture of long-wave sensitive loci results in high rates of double-recombination, which reduces the ability to discriminate red and orange colours, potentially deleterious for animals that select mates based on these colours. I showed double-recombination is significantly reduced in species with mate preferences based on red and orange colour, the first evidence that sexual selection can affect recombination rate (Sandkam et al- In review)."
Congratulations to Ben and to his supervisor, Felix!