Benjamin Van Doren
My work focuses on the evolution and plasticity of migration. Specifically, I am interested in how birds adjust their migratory behavior in response to both short- and long-term environmental changes, and the relative contributions of individual plasticity and "hard-coded" evolutionary changes in these responses. Currently, I am studying Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) that spend the winter in the British Isles. This migratory phenotype has only arisen in recent decades, and my project seeks to understand the extent to which this novel phenotype has been a result of microevolutionary change. I also use remote sensing and citizen science datasets to answer questions related to change and flexibility in bird migration.
The frequency with which divergence proceeds with gene flow is a fundamental, yet unresolved question in evolutionary biology. The genome of a diverging taxon does not change uniformly - instead some sections of the genome diverge quickly, while others diverge slowly. Such differences in the speed of divergence result in a heterogeneous genomic landscape that could be used to infer the evolutionary processes involved in the road to speciation such as natural selection and divergence with or without gene flow. For example, highly diverged regions surrounded by undifferentiated genome (often referred to as genomic islands of divergence) have been proposed to be a signature of divergence with gene flow. However, the extent to which the genomic landscape can be used to infer past evolutionary processes is debated and its resolution requires the characterisation of known gene flow scenarios for populations at different stages of divergence. Southwest Pacific island colonising silvereyes are a well-characterised system and I aim to compare genomic patterns of divergence in old and young populations that have experienced different gene flow scenarios in order to better understand how gene flow shapes the terrain of the genomic landscape.
I’m currently a PhD student supervised by Dr Sonya Clegg and Prof Tim Coulson at University of Oxford. I’m interested in the effects of environmental change on population dynamics, in particular the effects of climate change and human land-use changes. Currently I work on a long-term study system, silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis) on Heron Island, Australia, to examine population dynamics and eco-evolutionary changes in relation to environmental and climate change.