Rm: 4443A Bioscience Complex
Tel: (613) 533-6156
Faculty Web Site: http://www.queensu.ca/biology/people/faculty/friesen.html
RESEARCH AREA/POTENTIAL PROJECTS
My research program involves applying state-of-the-art methods in molecular genetics and bioinformatics both to test evolutionary theory and to aid conservation of endangered species (see http://post.queensu.ca/~vlf/index.htm). Our main focus is investigating the mechanisms by which biodiversity is generated (e.g., how species multiply), which is important for understanding many aspects of evolution and ecology. Some projects have applications to the conservation of specific species, with data being used for assessments under both the Canadian and US endangered species acts. Most projects involve seabirds, but others involve woodland birds, birds of prey, and fish. Questions encompass multiple levels of biological organization, from individual behaviour to phylogenetics (evolutionary trees). Two potential projects are available for 537 students in 2012-13:
1) Comparison of migratory (arctic) vs. resident (temperate) populations of black guillemots (Cepphus grylle) for variation in a gene putatively associated with dispersal propensity (DRD4). The student working on this project will use general protocols to amplify DRD4 from approx. 200 DNA samples previously collected from black guillemots from throughout their range. Sequence variation will be screened at a commercial facility. The student will analyze results to test for differences between migratory and resident populations. This project will help address the question whether arctic populations have the potential to disperse to new habitat when challenged by climate change.
2) Comparison of subarctic populations of Kittlitz’s murrelets (Brachyramphus brevirostris), which are declining, with sympatric populations of marbled murrelets (B. marmoratus) at a gene associated with temperature adaptation (hemoglobin). The procedure is the same as for Project 1. This project will help address the question whether arctic populations have the potential to adapt to the different oxygen-affinities of hemoglobin at warmer termperatures.
By clarifying the genetic basis of functional traits, the fitness effects of these traits, and existing levels of genetic variation, the proposed work promises to help resolve three general issues that have been identified as fundamental gaps in our current understanding of ecology and evolution: 1) What is the genomic basis of fitness-related traits? (Are they under the control of one gene or many? Does variation involve structural or regulatory genes? What are the pleiotropic effects of those genes?) 2) What are the relative roles of gene flow and adaptation in preventing/promoting population differentiation and speciation in natural populations of animals? 3) How much potential do populations have for local adaptation, and how quickly can they adapt? Results will also have at least two significant benefits for the conservation of biodiversity: 1) Understanding the genetic basis of adaptation will help us predict the ability of populations to adapt to anthropogenic challenges such as climate change. 2) Providing estimates of both neutral and adaptive variation will let us define more effective units for conservation for two species of seabirds challenged by climate change. As top predators, seabirds are key components of numerous marine ecosystems, and, given its long coastlines, Canada has a high international responsibility for their protection.