Project Details


Evolvability, defined as a system’s capacity to adapt to changing environmental conditions, is a concept that, after only recently gaining the spotlight, has since quickly emerged as a fast-growing field of research. The assessment of evolvability is crucial for facing key challenges of our time, such as climate change. Yet, evolvability research so far has concentrated on molecular and genetic studies only, disregarding other organismal features such as the mating and breeding system. In my PhD I will therefore explore the social determinants of evolvability, focusing on two research themes: the effect of sexual selection, and the effect of parental care, on evolvability. I hypothesize that under intensified sexual selection, increased evolvability through elevated mutation rates should evolve. I further predict that increased parental care affects evolvability via two distinct mechanisms, with opposing predictions: decreased selection for evolutionary innovations lowering evolvability, and heightened cryptic variation increasing evolvability. To explore these research themes, I will use an interdisciplinary approach with three components. Firstly, I will use mathematical models and computer simulations to investigate the theoretical grounds of the hypotheses given above, establishing clear predictions. These predictions will be tested against empirical data in a comparative approach, in which I will use the degree of sexual dimorphism as a proxy for sexual selection strength, and time until offspring independence as a proxy of the degree of parental care, respectively. Such a comparative approach has the advantage of testing the generality of these ideas, as it considers a broad range of species; however, it neglects to investigate the underlying mechanisms. To round off the project I will therefore carry out fieldwork to conduct a detailed analysis of the mechanisms linking sexual selection, parental care, and evolvability in the evolutionary arms race between the brood-parasitic cuckoo finch Anomalospiza imberbis and its host species
Effective start/end date01/09/202001/09/2024