Dr. Thomas Scheuerl

I am an evolutionary ecologist with deep interest into the question how organisms adapt to new or changed environmental conditions. But for a summary it is more easy to state what I am not interested in, than what draws my attention….

In my evolutionary ecology research I use experimental approaches and try to translate theoretical models and ideas into natural systems. My study organisms are bacteria and rotifers isolated from natural habitats. The questions I ask are: How does the ecology of an organism influence its adaptive capabilities? What is the role of the underlying genetic structure during adaptive evolution? How important is gene transfer and rearrangement of different loci, especially what is the role of sex? How do different patterns of stress shape adaptive processes? Is plasticity increasing or decreasing evolution? Finally, what does successful adaptation to new environmental stressors mean to different ecological interactions. For the future I want to increase my knowledge in molecular genetics and in modelling different related processes.

Evolutionary Ecology

To understand the ecology in which organisms are embedded is very important to understand the stability of populations and ecosystems. During my early scientific career I studied the ecology and phylogeny of free-living Polynucleobacter necessaries bacteria. The populations I studied are highly specialised to humic substances rich ponds mainly in the European alps, but in general these bacteria have adapted to various environmental conditions, like a facultative endo-symbiotic life style, and represent a group of organisms that are evolutionary plastic. However, several experiments suggest that they are unable to adapt to new or changed conditions under natural conditions.

Currently I use beech tree bacteria to get further insight about how bacteria evolve in response to a complex ecological background. Beech tree communities are perfect study organisms as they are diverse in species, represent various island communities located often at the same tree, are highly robust to laboratory conditions and well established in evolutionary experiments. In interaction with the background community adaptation of a focal organism might theoretically be constrained or promoted. The direction of evolutionary success might strongly depend on the ecological interaction, which is my main focus at the moment of research. This research will be combined with maintained of biodiversity phylogenetic comparisons and different patterns of directional or balancing selection.

 

See more: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/people/t.scheuerl