Collaborative Research: Diversification of sensory systems in novel habitat: enhanced vision of compensation in other modalities? Grant uri icon



  • Understanding what helps and hinders rapid adaptation is crucial to predict organism responses to changing environments. Iceland's dynamic landscape provides a natural laboratory of fast-paced changes shaped by glaciers, volcanoes, and severe oceanic storms. The focus of this project is marine stickleback fish that have colonized multiple freshwater lakes, and thus have evolved in waters differing dramatically in clarity.

    The research examines sensory system evolution to ask if eyes get better at seeing in murky water, or if fish instead evolve better senses of smell and touch. The project identifies how genes and environment contribute to sensory system adaptation in different environments. The project gives young scientists cutting-edge training in multiple disciplines, generating a scientific workforce to help deal with large-scale environmental issues our society faces. Outreach efforts in museums and schools educate young and old alike on evolutionary changes driven by environmental change.

    This research studies adaptation of sight, smell, and touch in extreme sensory environments. It assesses how differences in sensory systems affect survival from predators in murky glacial and clear lakes. The research reveals how genetic variation and gene expression differ, and reconstructs the history of colonization and the extent of parallel evolution of these traits in multiple lakes. It also uses transplant experiments to evaluate the extent of plasticity in sensory systems. This research combines the phenotypic and functional with the genetic dimensions of biodiversity, all within a historical context. Each dimension informs the other to help understand sensory adaptation.

date/time interval

  • October 1, 2016 - September 30, 2021

total award amount

  • $409,998

sponsor award ID

  • 1638567