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Dr. Ornela De Gasperin

Current research – Evolution and maintenance of polymorphisms

My research interest lies in understanding why the structure of animal societies vary across and within species. I am using the ant clade (family formicidae) to investigate why some species have colonies headed by only one queen (monogynous), while others have colonies with multiple queens (polygynous), and why some species remain polymorphic (having both types of colonies within populations).

PhD research –Evolutionary conflicts, ecological interactions and life history strategies

During my PhD I investigated how ecological interactions (like parasitism/mutualism) influence the social evolution of individuals of the same species, and the optimal life history strategy implemented by an organism.
Individuals are selected to maximise their own reproductive success, but successful reproduction commonly involves cooperation between conspecifics. Because natural selection acts differently on each individual, evolutionary conflicts are likely to arise between them. Conflicts among individuals of the same species are widespread in nature, but they are usually analysed without considering the wider ecological context. Yet interactions with second species are unlikely to have the same fitness effect on all individuals, and therefore they can potentially heighten or ameliorate conflicts between conspecifics.
I used burying beetles (Nicrophorus vespilloides) and the mites they carry as a model organism to investigate how interspecific interactions (like parasitism) influence conflicts of interests between family members, and the optimal life history strategy of an organism.

Ornela1-1.jpg

photo credit: Tom Houslay

My PhD research produced three main findings:

  1. Interspecific interactions can have sex-specific and age-specific effects on individuals. Because they can have opposite effects on individuals of the same species, they can generate evolutionary conflicts between them.
  2. Interspecific interactions can trigger changes in life-history trade-offs. In particular, they can alter how much individuals invest in current or future reproductive events, and tip the balance between offspring size and number.
  3. There is a continuum from parasitism to mutualism depending on the ecological context and the interacting individuals.

Bachelor research

2009.08-2011.08: Development of behaviour
I graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. With my undergraduate thesis I investigated how early social experience influences adult courtship patterns in males of an endemic Mexican fish commonly known as ‘Amarillo’ fish (yellow fish; Girardinichthys multiradiatus). My research showed that the adult courtship pattern of males depends the type of females the they were raised with (local or non-local females), by their social rank during development (dominant/subordinate/singleton), and by the behavior of the female that they courted.

Ornela2-1.jpg

photo credit: jjphoto.dk

2009.01-2009.08: Communication
I carried out a research project in collaboration with an undergrad colleague on the mesquite lizard (Sceloporus grammicus microlepidotus). Males of this species have bright blue patches on their stomach. We did an experiment where we painted over the ventral blue patch of males to either: a) increase, b) reduce, or c) maintain the brightness of their patch. We then placed pairs of males to fight, and we found that males attacked more their opponent when the opponent had a dull patch, and attacked it less when it had a bright patch.

Ornela3.jpg

photo credit: Agkistrodon

2016.06-present
Post-doc
Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Advisor: Michel Chapuisat.

2011.10-2016.04
PhD
Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge. PhD supervisor: Becky Kilner.

2006.08-2011.08
BSc (Biology)
National Autonomous University of Mexico

2009.08-2011.08
BSc dissertation
Undergraduate research project. Department of Ecology, National Autonomous University of Mexico. Supervisor: Constantino Macias Garcia

2009.01-2009.08
BSc research project
Undergraduate research project. Department of Ecology, National Autonomous University of Mexico. Supervisor: Roxana Torres

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Office room: 3221
Phone: +41 21 692 4245
Fax: +41 21 692 4165
ornela.degasperin[@]unil.ch


Member of Chapuisat group

Biophore - CH-1015 Lausanne  - Switzerland  -  Tel. +41 21 692 41 60  -  Fax +41 21 692 41 65
Swiss University