Department Fish Ecology and Evolution

Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics

We are part of the Institute of Integrative Biology (IBZ) and the Department of Environmental System Sciences (D-USYS) at ETH Zürich. Our group is hosted by Eawag in Kastanienbaum, where our offices and labs are based. My group studies evolution as a contemporary ecological and ecosystem process. We are interested in the ecological dynamics of natural selection, and the reciprocal interactions among ecological, ecosystem, and evolutionary dynamics. Food webs exhibit remarkable structural diversity, but how does this influence the functioning of ecosystems? To predict how ecosystems will respond to global environmental change, we need to understand the processes that maintain food web diversity and functioning of ecosystems. This requires a more complete integration of ecology, evolution, and ecosystem science.

We focus on the ecological, evolutionary, and anthropogenic processes that create, maintain, and change biodiversity and how these processes affect the functioning of aquatic ecosystems (e.g. productivity, nutrient cycling, organic matter flux).

We approach these questions using large scale mesocosm experiments, and a combination of comparative field surveys, modeling, and lab studies.

M.Sc. students and undergraduates are welcome. For further information please contact Blake Matthews.


Current projects

In this project we are interested in which traits govern the efficiency of stickleback foraging in different ecological contexts.
New tools to monitor changes in ecosystem conditions and to quantify genetic changes of populations in (semi-)natural environments to predict how human mediated environmental change will influence stability and resilience of ecosystems.
Understand the mechanisms how adaptive evolution shapes reciprocal interactions between organisms and their environment, leading to either new opportunities or new constraints for further adaptation.
Ecosystem effects of parasitism, and how such effects might alter selection pressures on subsequent generations in mesocosm experiments.

Feedbacks between phenotypic evolution and ecosystem dynamics - Feedbacks are central to understanding evolving biological systems. In aquatic systems, we study how contemporary trait evolution of predators (e.g. threespine stickleback) can affect community structure (of prey and non-prey) and the functioning of ecosystems (e.g. habitat structure, nutrient cycling, productivity). Such organisms-mediated ecosystem effects can feedback to affect selection gradients and evolutionary responses.

Evolution and the resilience of ecosystems - Interactions between ecological and evolutionary processes are fundamental for understanding the balance of feedbacks that govern ecosystem stability and resilience to environmental change. Using pond and mesocosm experiments, we study how species interactions and biodiversity affect the resilience of aquatic system to perturbations (e.g. nutrient pollution).

Evolution of the organism-environment interaction - All living organisms evolve in a reciprocal interaction with their environment. The evolution of phenotypic plasticity is an important component of this interaction. In aquatic organisms, we study both the causes and consequences of plasticity. In isopods, cryptic pigmentation is a developmentally plastic trait, whose evolution is likely mediated by predation, resources, and habitat structure. In stickleback, trait plasticity can have effects on ecosystems that are independent of the genetic background of the population.

The community context of evolution - Contemporary evolution in natural populations is shaped by the interplay of abiotic environments and species interactions. It is the structure and composition of communities that defines ecological dynamics of natural selection. We have recently begun to study the community context of evolution and adaptation in freshwater ecosystems (lakes and streams) on the Southern Peninsula of Greenland. The lakes of Greenland are inhabited by only two fish species (threespine stickleback and char), and so there are a limited number of food web configurations (e.g. only one species, both species, or neither species). We are interested in how this community context (i.e. presence or absence of Char) affects the evolution of interactions between stickleback and their prey.

Evolution of Isopod pigmentation

Eco-evolutionary dynamics of Aquatic Ecosystems (Greenland)

Ecological resilience and tipping points in evolving ecosystems

Eco-evolutionary time series of plankton from Lake Victoria

Diversity of stickleback in Lake Constance  ( - L13)


Dr. Maria CuencaTel. +41 58 765 2203Send Mail
Dr. Blake MatthewsTel. +41 58 765 2120Send Mail
Dr. Cameron HudsonTel. +41 58 765 2166Send Mail
Leighton Rebecca KingTel. +41 58 765 2188Send Mail
Marvin MoosmannTel. +41 58 765 2126Send Mail
Rebecca OesterTel. +41 58 765 2119Send Mail
Dominique StalderTel. +41 58 765 2158Send Mail
Daniel SteinerTel. +41 58 765 2118Send Mail