Research Fellows Directory
Dr John Hunt
University of Exeter
In the simplest instance, the evolution of any trait (e.g. wing length) requires that there is heritable variation in the trait (i.e. passed from parents to offspring by genes) and the trait influences fitness (i.e. the number of offspring that parents produce). So if parents with longer wings have more children and the children also have longer wings, then the average length of wings in the population will increase over evolutionary time. However, things are more complicated than this because genes often affect more than one trait. As a result, the way a trait evolves depends on the action of many genes. For example, if the genes controlling wing length also control leg length and there is an advantage to having longer wings in parents, then the average length of both traits will increase in the population even though leg length per se may not actually be beneficial to parents. These associations between genes are known as the genetic architecture of the trait.
At present we can accurately predict short-term (i.e. one or two generations) evolutionary changes because the genetic architecture remains relatively constant. Unfortunately though, because the genetic architecture can also evolve, predicting long-term evolution (i.e. millions of years) is much more complicated. The main reason for this is that we do not have a good understanding of how genetic architecture evolves. My proposed research aims to investigate this issue in two different insects: the black field cricket Teleogryllus commodus and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.
Benefits to Society: My proposed work will provide us with a better understanding of how evolution works and how biological diversity is generated. It will also provide important insight into how species could evolve in response to the ever increasing number of human disturbances, such as global warming, deforestation and urban development.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)