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lab profile


David Pfennig

University of North Carolina
Coker Hall, CB#3280
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280

(919) 962-6958

Taxa Studied: Vertebrate Animals, I work especially on amphibians and reptiles (specifically, snakes).
Techniques Employed: Quantitative PCR (qPCR), Microarrays, 454 Pyrosequencing, Solexa (Illumina) Sequencing, Bioinformatics/Sequence Analysis, In Situ Hybridization, Sectioning for Electron Microscopy, Morpholinos
Research Description: I'm broadly interested in the interplay between evolution, ecology, and development. My current research focuses on four main topics. First, I study the causes and consequences of a common feature of development: its tendency to be responsive to changes in the environment. Although biologists have long known that an individual organism’s phenotype can be modified by its environmental conditions, the implications of such developmental plasticity for ecology and evolution are poorly understood. Moreover, the underlying genetic and developmental mechanisms that foster plasticity are unclear. I seek to understand the impacts of developmental plasticity on diversification and evolutionary innovation, as well as how and why plasticity arises in the first place. Second, I am interested in clarifying the evolutionary and ecological implications of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance (i.e., the inheritance of phenotypic characters through processes other than those involving changes in DNA sequence, such as chromatin marking, maternal effects, parasite transmission, or learning). I especially seek to understand how such changes come about at the mechanistic level as well as what role (if any) these changes play in adaptive evolution. Third, I study the role of competition in generating and maintaining biodiversity. I'm particularly interested in unraveling whether and how competition promotes trait evolution and the impacts of any such evolution on the formation of new traits and new species. I am also interested in understanding how the ability to respond to competitors through developmental plasticity facilitates or impedes an evolutionary response to competitively mediated selection. Finally, I study a striking form of convergent evolution known as Batesian mimicry, which evolves when a palatable species co-opts a warning signal from a dangerous species and thereby deceives its potential predators. Such instances of life imitating life provide an ideal opportunity to assess natural selection's efficacy in promoting adaptation. We have been investigating such questions as: (1) Why is mimicry often imprecise? (2) What genetic and developmental mechanisms underlie mimicry? (3) What role, if any, does Batesian mimicry play in speciation? and (4) How does Batesian mimicry evolve in the first place?
Lab Web Page: http://bio.unc.edu/people/faculty/pfennig/
Willing to Host Undergraduates: YES
Actively Seeking Undergraduates: YES
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