MSU integrative biologist Janette Boughman is the lead investigator of a five-year, $1.84 million National Science Foundation Dimensions of Biodiversity collaborative grant to pursue research studying the evolution of threespine stickleback throughout Iceland.
Iceland’s glaciers have scoured the land and created lakes and rivers over many millennia. The age of these lakes ranges from a couple of hundred to thousands of years old. A fascinating ecological feature is that some lakes are fed by springs and are exceptionally clear, whereas others are fed by glaciers and cloudy. Originally a marine fish, the threespine stickleback, has adapted to inhabit and thrive in hundreds of Iceland’s freshwater lakes.
Boughman, associate professor in MSU’s Department of Integrative Biology in the College of Natural Science, recognized this intriguing set of circumstances as a unique window from which to study adaptation, contrasting populations that were recently introduced into spring-fed versus glacial lakes with populations that have been established for many thousands of years.
Boughman and her research team, Gideon Bradburd and Jason Keagy, MSU Department of Integrative Biology; Deborah Stenkamp, University of Idaho; and Hans Hofmann, University of Texas at Austin, will investigate the different sensory systems of Icelandic sticklebacks and then use the data collected to understand whether the way that genes are organized in the genome helps or hinders the process of adaptation.
Boughman considers Iceland an evolutionary powerhouse. Sticklebacks from the ocean migrated to Iceland's lakes and rivers many times since the last ice age. Some lakes were colonized by stickleback 10,000 years ago while other lakes were colonized as recently as the past 100 years.
"By comparing the newer and older populations it is possible to see how much adaptation there has been for brief and long periods of time; in other words, we can estimate rates of evolution,” Boughman said.