Research Fellows Directory
Professor Stephen Rossiter
Queen Mary, University of London
Growing evidence suggests that, contrary to classical views, reproductive isolation and speciation might proceed at a genic level with ongoing gene flow. This has profound implications for understanding how new species might form, especially in cases without geographical isolation.
My group studies neutral genes, and those under selection, to investigate processes of population divergence, speciation and diversification. We use echolocating horseshoe bats as a model, which have undergone rapid speciation and show wide inter-specific variation in call frequency. These bats have evolved a suite of phenotypic traits for producing, receiving and processing their constantfrequency ultra-sonic calls, and these traits also correlate with species-specific call variation. In these bats, the frequency of the emitted call is exquisitely tuned to the auditory system, and determines prey size and habitat use, as well as functioning in communication. This inter-dependent nature of ecology, behaviour, physiology and a complex phenotypic syndrome in this system - all of which are moulded and constrained by the physical properties of sound waves – makes these bats outstanding candidates for understanding the process by which species divergence occurs at the level of different genes.
Since horseshoe bats have the highest auditory thresholds of all mammals, and hearing correlates with echolocation/communication, we believe that hearing genes are promising candidate speciation genes in this group. To find these genes, we look for loci that have mutations in humans who suffer from deafness, and then sequence these loci in bats and other mammals. We are also using genome data combined with novel statistical methods to discover genes involved in echolocation. These approaches have identified several genes that have undergone the same mutations in echolocating dolphins. We will now study these genes within diverging populations of horseshoe bats to assess their role in speciation.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)