Outreach and Media Teaching


Our work focuses on vertebrate ecology and evolution. Our main research interests are the study of evolution of form and function, the effects human impact on vertebrates, and the evolution of cancer suppression mechanisms

Evolution of form and function

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 environments and in this case, what is the function and performance for which they are adapted to. We are studying the evolution and possible adaptation of the different shell morphologies within and among populations of the giant Galápagos tortoises. To this purpose, we integrate genetic and morphometric data. An interview on our work (in Dutch) on functional morphology can be found here.

Evolution of color and color 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 in understanding the influence of genotype, environment and stochasticity on this variation; 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.

Photo: Dr. T. Gamble

Effects of 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 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. We work with natural and captive bred populations of fish and turtles. Our results have an impact on the conservation of the studied species.

Photo: N. Moreno

Evolution of cancer suppression mechanisms

Last update August 2019
Copyright Ylenia Chiari