I am an evolutionary biologist with keen interests in physiology, life-history theories and behavioural ecology. I use carefully thought experiments to address proximate and ultimate sources of variation in performance measured at levels ranging from cells to individuals and populations.
Sept 2013 Senior Lecturer, University of Aberdeen
2008 - 2013 Junior group leader, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, with funding from the Swiss NSF to investigate the ‘Importance of mitochondrial uncoupling and telomere dynamics in the free radical theory of ageing’.
2005 - 2008 Post-doctoral fellow in the groups of Prof Pat Monaghan and Prof Neil Metcalfe, investigating telomere dynamics and ageing in birds. University of Glasgow. Fellowship funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.
2004- 2005 Post-doctoral research associate in Dr Philipp Heeb’s group, investigating the role of skin UV coloration in parent-offspring interaction. University of Lausanne, Switzerland.
2000 - 2003 Ph.D. University of Berne, Switzerland entitled ‘Costs of parasitism and host anti-parasite strategies: Case studies in the Alpine swift Apus melba in response to infestation by the louse fly Crataerina melbae’ and supervised by Prof Heinz Richner and Prof Alexandre Roulin.
2000 M.Sci. from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in Ecology & Evolution
1999 B.Sc. from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in Ecology & Systematics
Life history theories
Metabolism, mitochondrial function & oxidative stress
Personality traits & cognition
Signalling in sexual and social contexts
The common thread that runs through my different research topics is the mitochondrion.
Mitochondria are small organelles present in most animal cells that are responsible to convert food into cellular energy. Hence, mitochondria functions are vital to support growth, reproduction and body maintenance, and ultimately for a healthy living. My current research aims to better understand (1) the sources of variation in mitochondrial function and (2)their consequences at the phenotypic level.
1. Sources of variation in mitochondrial function
A fascinating aspect of mitochondria biology is that they possess their own genome that is inherited through the mother only, whereas the nuclear genome is inherited from both parents. Because ultimately mitochondrial function relies on a ‘machinery’ with pieces that are encoded both in the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes, key questions are whether some mito-nuclear genome combination leads to more efficient/deficient mitochondria, and whether epigenetic interaction between these two genomes helps resolve conflicts.
To address these questions, I have developed a unique study system of four experimental lines of wild-derived voles with distinct combinations of mitochondrial and nuclear genomes (nuclearmitochondrial: CC, CW, WC, WW). This is allowing me to perform the most comprehensive study so far in a mammal species on effects of these two genomes on traits ranging from epigenetic variation in the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes and mitochondrial functions to the whole organism metabolism and metabolic health.
Main collaborator: Dr Tyler Stevenson (Aberdeen)
2. Linking mitochondrial function to the phenotype
Mitochondria & life history theories
Life histories describe how organisms grow, mature, reproduce and age, and substantial evidence has now accumulated that most of the variation in life histories of mammals and birds falls along a slow-fast continuum. Organisms with slow paces of life are characterised by slow growth, delayed maturity, low reproductive investments and extended lifespan, whereas organisms with fast paces of life possess the opposite combination of traits. The absence of alternative combinations of these traits implies constraints on the diversification of life histories. Besides the production of cellular energy vital to ensure growth, reproduction and maintenance, mitochondria are also producing reactive oxygen production (ROS) that can damage the cell and hasten ageing. Hence, variation in mitochondrial function may play a key role in shaping animal life history trajectories.
I am investigating the links between mitochondria, oxidative stress and life history trajectories in various animal species, both in the lab and in the field.
Main collaborators: Dr Antoine Stier (Glasgow) and Dr François Criscuolo (Strasbourg)
Mitochondria & behavioural and cognitive traits
Inter-individual variation in cognitive abilities, such as learning, has been related to variation in reproductive success in the wild. However, whether learning has a causal influence on reproductive success is an open question. Notably, it remains unclear how ageing, cognition and reproductive performance are inter-connected. Dysfunction in mitochondrial function with age can lead to a gradual accumulation of oxidative damage in the brain and muscles, which in turn may account for a spurious association between cognitive abilities and (reproductive) performance. A causal association between cognitive abilities and reproductive performance can arise through a better exploitation of the habitat. Because dietary antioxidants can mitigate cognitive ageing and improve reproduction, an alternative hypothesis is that cognitive abilities are key attributes allowing individuals to better exploit their habitat, increase reproductive success and live longer and healthier.
I am addressing this topic by measuring mitochondrial function, oxidative stress, cognitive abilities and reproductive performance in wild bird populations.
Main collaborators: Dr Blandine Doligez (Lyon) and Dr Laure Cauchard (Montreal)
Mentoring and Supervision
Post-doctoral fellows, main advisor | 2 researchers
2011-14 Dr Vincent Viblanc (one-year fellowship from the Fyssen Foundation, France; two-year fellowship from the AXA Foundation)
2014-15 Dr Luiza Duarte (one-year fellowship from the CAPES Brazilian Science Foundation)
Ph.D. students, main advisor (3 to 4-year project) | 5 students
2018-22 Mark Williamson. Jointly supervised with Dr Cath Jones, University of Aberdeen, and Dr Leighton Pritchard, James Hutton Institute
2017-21 Alexandra Jebb. Jointly supervised with Dr Julien Martin, University of Aberdeen
2013-16 Quentin Schull. Jointly supervised with Dr Jean-Patrice Robin and Dr Vincent Viblanc, University of Strasbourg, France
2011-15 Charlotte Récapet. Jointly supervised with Dr Blandine Doligez, University of Lyon, France
2009-14 Mikko Lehto Hürlimann. University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Ph.D. visiting student, (1-year project) | 1 student
2014-15 Barbara Henning. One year PhD sandwich from the CAPES Brazilian Science Foundation
M.S. students, main advisor (6 to 12-month project) | >30 students so far
B.S. and Hons. students, main advisor (3 to 4-month project) | >30 students so far
As Principal Investigator
2015 British Ornithological Union, £ 1.2k
2015 Percy Sladen Memorial Fund, research grant, £ 1k
2014 British Ecological Society, research grant, £ 5k
2014 Royal Society of London, research grant, £ 14.4k
2014 Carnegie Trust, travel grant, £ 2.5k
2013 Fondation Agassiz, University of Lausanne, research grant, ca. CHF 12k
2012 - 13 Swiss National Science Foundation, SNF research grant, CHF 113k
2009 - 12 Swiss National Science Foundation, SNF research grant, CHF 375k
2005 -08 Swiss National Science Foundation, SNF post-doctoral fellowship, CHF 154k
Asoociated as Co-Investigator
2018 -22 BBSRC, Eastbio PhD studentship: PI: Cath Jones, University of Aberdeen. £ 72k
2017 -21 BBSRC, Eastbio PhD studentship: PI: Julien Martin, University of Aberdeen. £ 72k
2016 - 18 Institut Polaire Français Paul Emile Victor, France. PI: Dr Jean Patrice Robin, CNRS-Strasbourg, France. Euro 116k
2015 - 16 Institut Polaire Français Paul Emile Victor, France. PI: Dr Jean Patrice Robin, CNRS-Strasbourg, France. Euro 58k
2011 - 14 Institut Polaire Français Paul Emile Victor, France. PI: Dr Jean Patrice Robin, CNRS-Strasbourg, France. Euro 174k
2010 - 13 Programme International de Coopération Scientifique (PICS) entre la France et la Suisse. CNRS, France. PI: Dr François Criscuolo, CNRS-Strasbourg, France. Euro 21k
2010 Projets Exploratoires Pluridisciplinaires (PEPS). CNRS, France. PI: Dr Blandine Doligez, CNRS-Lyon, France. Euro 10k
- BI3809 Life History Evolution: admin, lecturing, practical, marking
- ZO4539 Advanced Behavioural Ecology: admin, lecturing, practical, marking
- BI2508 Animal Physiology: lecturing, marking
- BI1512 Diversity of Life: lecturing, practical, marking
- BI4017 Honours Essays: supervision, marking
- ZO4811 Honours Projects: supervision, marking
- ZO4817 Hormones and Behaviour: marking
- Further Info
Main Society Positions
2014- Review editors for Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
2010-2014 Secretary of the Swiss Zoological Society
Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour
British Ecological Society
European Society for Evolutionary Biology
Nos Oiseaux, Société Romande pour l’Etude et la Protection des Oiseaux
Swiss Zoological Society
I am regularly reviewing manuscripts for scientific journals such as Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, Behavioral Ecology or Journal of Experimental Biology
Here is the full list of journals where I have been reviewing manuscripts.
Acta Ornithologica, Ardeola, Aging Cell, Animal Behaviour, Avian Biology Research
Behavioural Ecology, Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology, BMC Evolutionary Biology, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, Biological Reviews, Biotropica, Bird Study
Canadian Journal of Zoology, Conservation Physiology, Condor, Current Biology, Current Zoology
Ecology, Ecology & Evolution, Evolution, Evolutionary Biology
General and Comparative Endocrinology
Ibis, Integrative & Comparative Biology, International Journal for Parasitology
Journal of Aging Research, Journal of Avian Biology, Journal of Animal Ecology, Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Journal of Experimental Biology, Journal of Insect Behavior, Journal of Insect Science, Journal of Field Ornithology, Journal of Zoology London, Journal of Wildlife Disease
Marine Mammal Science, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Molecular Ecology Resources
PLoS One, Polar Biology, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Physiology & Behavior
I am also regularly reviewing grants for research councils such as
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Croatian Science Foundation
Fonds de Recherche du Québec
French Polar Institute
Israel Science Foundation
NWO, the Dutch Research Council
Swiss National Science Foundation