There are somewhere between 2 and 10 million living species on earth – possibly more. What processes create this incredible diversity? The deep and difficult question of how new species form has challenged biologists for a long time. This question is at the heart of my research program. A unifying theme of my work is to understand how an organisms’ behavior generates selection that results in diversification, and how diverse behavior itself evolves under the influence of multiple forms of selection. Behavioral traits are thus the primary phenotypes of interest, but can also be the agents of evolutionary change.
The Braasch Lab addresses fundamental questions about the genomic and developmental basis of major transitions during the course of vertebrate evolution. We study genomic and morphological novelties in vertebrates at the levels of genome structure, gene family dynamics, and gene regulation and combine comparative genomics with analyses of molecular evolution and developmental genetic approaches using zebrafish (Danio rerio), spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) and other fishes as model systems.
Our research concerns the causes of evolutionary changes in the nervous system and the behavioral consequences of these changes. We are focusing on evolution and detection of pheromones in salamanders.
I am broadly interested in evolution, ecology, and conservation of natural populations. Research in my lab combines genomic tools, mark-recapture methods, and experiments to study how interactions between gene flow, drift, and selection affect population dynamics and diversity patterns. I am especially interested in gaining a mechanistic understanding of genetic rescue, which is the increase in population growth caused by the infusion of new genetic variation, and in implementing this tool in conservation and management.
Research in the Forensic Biology Laboratory is designed around identification, both of human and non-human species. Laboratory members are also active in forensic casework, aiding the criminal justice system.
We are interested in the origin and diversification of novel phenotypic and behavioral traits involved in animal communication signals, as they relate to signal diversity, mate choice, and speciation. Our model system of choice is the mormyrid electric fish, which enables a highly integrative approach to these questions, combining behavior, physiology, developmental biology, population genetics, and genomes.