My research comprises various topics of evolutionary biology like speciation, adaptive radiation, reproductive isolation, population genetics, ecological & evolutionary genomics, and microevolution.
I am working as a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow on the EC Transfer of Knowledge project MAERO (Molecular Adaptation in Ecologically Relevant Organisms). In four different model species (Arabidopsis lyrata, passerine birds, Littorina winkles, and Soay sheep) we are studying adaptive genetic variation in natural populations for whom extensive genomic data are available. A key aim of the project is to develop methods for distinguishing between the signatures of demography and selection on sequence variation.
In my specific project I am studying the Soay sheep of St. Kilda. This sheep population is one of the best studied natural mammal populations with life history data recorded on ~6000 animals over a >20 year period. A genetic map has been used to identify fitness related QTL and a 40k SNP chip will shortly be available. Furthermore, genome sequence assemblies from domestic sheep and cattle are available as bioinformatics resources. Population size of sheep on St. Kilda is naturally regulated by the availability of resources and is often reduced dramatically. This offers the opportunity to study selection and adaptation in the wild. However, there is evidence that recent admixture between Soay and domestic sheep has occurred, possibly influencing patterns of genetic variation in the study population. My aim is to untangle the effects of adaptation and admixture at a genomic level by using new ultra highthrouput sequencing to analyse different parts of the genome of Soay sheep and other sheep breeds. I will (i) establish whether admixture has occurred, identifying introduced haplotypes in the process, and (ii) compare sequence diversity at putative fitness loci with other regions of the genome to better understand the relative impacts of adaptive evolution and admixture on patterns of variation.
During my PhD and first postdoc at the University of Potsdam I studied speciation processes in the African weakly electric fish genus Campylomormyrus. The African weakly electric fish or mormyrids possess an electric organ and use their Electric Organ Discharge (EOD) for active electrolocation and social communication. Interestingly, the mormyrid genus Campylomormyrus contains a huge variety of different EOD waveforms. To shed light on the speciation processes within this genus, we have sampled fish near Brazzaville (Congo Basin). We adopted a multidisciplinary approach, combining a variety of molecular markers (mitochondrial and nuclear sequences as well as self developed microsatellites) with geometric morphometrics, and monitoring of diversification in the EOD waveforms to build up the first convincing phylogenetic hypothesis for Campylomormyrus. Morphometric analyses showed that the major source of differentiation among clades resides in traits correlated with feeding ecology. Furthermore mate choice experiments showed assortative mating due to EOD characteristics. Playback experiments with artificial EODs verified that the EOD is crucial for the decision of the female. Our results, suggest that Campylomormyrus underwent an adaptive radiation possibly triggered by selection on EOD characteristics involved in foraging and mating behaviour.
Since 12/2007 Marie Curie postdoctoral research fellow, Department of Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield
06/2006-11/2007 Postdoctoral research fellow, Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam
01/2003 – 05/2006 PhD in Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam
9/1996 – 12/2002 Diploma in Biology, Christian-Albrechts-University, Kiel (subjects: Zoology, Marine Science &Biochemistry)
Feulner, P.G.D., Plath, M., Engelmann, J., Kirschbaum, F., & Tiedemann, R. (2009). Article Addendum - Magic trait Electric Organ Discharge (EOD): Dual function of electric signals promotes speciation in African weakly electric fish. Communicative & Integrative Biology 2: issue 4. http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/cib/article/8386
Feulner, P.G.D., Plath, M., Engelmann, J., Kirschbaum, F., & Tiedemann, R. (2009). Electric fish use species-specific discharge for mate recognition Biology Letters 5: 225-228
Skog, A., Zachos, F.E., Rueness, E.K., Feulner, P.G.D., Mysterud, A., Langvatn, R, Lorenzini, R., Hmwe, S.S., Lehoczky, I., Hartl, G.B., Stenseth, N.C., & Jakobsen, K.S. (2008) Phylogeography of red deer (Cervus elaphus) in Europe. Journal of Biogeography 36: 66-77
Tobler, M., DeWitt, T.J., Schlupp, I., García de León, F.J., Hermann, R., Feulner, P.G.D., Tiedemann, R., & Plath, M. (2008) Toxic hydrogen sulfide and dark caves: phenotypic and genetic divergence across two abiotic environmental gradients in Poecilia mexicana. Evolution 62: 2643-2659
Feulner, P.G.D., Kirschbaum, F., & Tiedemann, R. (2008) Adaptive radiation in the Congo River: A sympatric speciation scenario for African weakly electric fish (Teleostei; Mormyridae; Campylomormyrus). Journal of Physiology – Paris. 102: 340-346. .
Feulner, P.G.D., Kirschbaum, F., Mamonekene V., Ketmaier V. & Tiedemann, R. (2007) Adaptive radiation in African weakly electric fish (Teleostei: Mormyridae: Campylomormyrus): a combined molecular and morphological approach Journal of Evolutionary Biology 20: 403-414.
Feulner, P.G.D., Kirschbaum, F., Schugardt C., Ketmaier V. & Tiedemann, R. (2006) Electrophysiological and molecular genetic evidence for sympatrically occuring cryptic species in African weakly electric fishes (Teleostei: Mormyridae: Campylomormyrus). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 39: 198-208.
Feulner, P.G.D., Kirschbaum, F. & Tiedemann, R. (2005) Eighteen microsatellite loci for endemic African weakly electric fish (Campylomormyrus, Mormyridae) and their cross species applicability among related taxa. Molecular Ecology Notes 5: 446-448.
Feulner, P.G.D., Bielfeldt, W. Zachos, F.E., Bradvarovic, J., Eckert, I. & Hartl, G.B. (2004) Mitochondrial DNA and microsatellite analyses of the genetic status of the presumed subspecies Cervus elaphus montanus (Carpathian red deer). Heredity 93: 299-306.