Outreach and Media Teaching Vertebrate Collection Pictures


Our work focuses on vertebrate ecology and evolution. Our main research interests are the study of human impacts on vertebrates, morphological and molecular evolution, and comparative genomics

Human impact on vertebrates

Urban ecology and evolution

Humans have caused major modifications to the environment and may be partly responsible for driving rapid or contemporary evolution of the organisms living in it. We are interested in understanding how human disturbance and urbanization affect species composition and influence phenotypic (e.g., growth, body size) and genetic changes in populations. For this work, we combine field data, GIS, morphological and molecular data, and citizen science.

Genetic and phenotypic response to contaminant exposure

There is growing interest in the effects that environmental contaminants can have on living organisms. We ate interested in studying the influence of short- and long-term environmental contamination on species evolution and possible adaptation to disturbed environments. In collaboration with Dr. S. Glaberman and Dr. I. Capellini, we are using vertebrate species to study the genetic and phenotypic response of organisms to contaminant exposure. To accomplish this, we integrate molecular evolution, molecular biology, and comparative phylogenetic methods.


Vertebrate morphological evolution

Evolution of shell shape in Galápagos tortoises


The giant tortoises inhabiting the Galápagos archipelago represent one of only two surviving lineages of once widespread giant tortoises. Galápagos tortoises have two very distinct shell shapes: either domed, with a typical rounded carapace, or saddleback, with a higher anterior opening of the carapace and a more compressed shape on the sides. Although there is a correlation between shell shape and environmental characteristics (drier or more humid environment), it is currently not clear if the different shell morphologies represent an adaptation to these environment and in this case, what is the function and performance for which they are adapted to. In collaboration with Dr. J. Claude and Dr. A. Caccone, I am interested in studying the evolution and possible adaptation of the different shell morphologies within and among populations of the giant Galápagos tortoises. To this purpose, I integrate genetic and morphometric data. I am also collaborating with Dr. B. Gilles and  Dr. A. van der Meijden to include a functional morphology approach in my research. An interview on our work (in Dutch) on functional morphology can be found here.

Evolution of color and pattern in lizards


Body color and color patterns in vertebrates are one of the best known examples of phenotypic variation and coloration has been shown to evolve based on the interactions between and organism and its environment. Coloration and color patterns are known to be functionally important for sexual selection, communication, and mimicry. We are interested in investigating: 1) the molecular basis of color and color pattern variation in lizards; 2) how color patterns change during ontogeny and if these changes can be explained by reaction/diffusion; 3) the ecological function of different color patterns (e.g., communication, predator escape, individual recognition). To accomplish this work, we integrate genomics, mathematical modeling, and behavioral experiments. This project is in collaboration with Dr. T. Gamble and Dr. Maria Audi Byrne.

Photo: Dr. T. Gamble

Last update September 2015
Copyright Ylenia Chiari