Well, after a few weeks of "getting used to", life is now going very well in Oslo. As some of you already know, I am working on a post-doctoral project with Glenn-Peter Saetre and Thomas Hansen at CEES (Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, Department of Biology) for the next 2 years. My project is centered around questions related to the evolution of genetic architecture during hybrid speciation. Hybrid speciation is a special case of speciation where hybridization leads to the evolution of a new lineage reproductively isolated from its two parental species. For those interested, there will be a symposium organized by Frospects in October 2011 on hybridization and speciation, and you still have some time to apply if you want (See Evoldir).
Recently, Glenn-Peter Saetre and coworkers have obtained the first genetic evidence for homoploid hybrid speciation in birds (soon to appear in Molecular Ecology). They showed that the Italian sparrow (Passer italiae) is a stabilized and uniform hybrid taxon that originated from past events of hybridization between two divergent parental species, the house sparrow (P. domesticus) and the Spanish sparrow (P. hispaniolensis). The two parental species differ in a number of functionally important traits, including melanin-based plumage coloration. This system provides excellent opportunities to study the genetic architecture of secondary sexual traits, as adult males breeding plumage differs between species and it could play a role in reproductive isolation.
Hybrid speciation involves fusion and stabilization of two differentiated genomes. I strongly believe that recent theoretical and technological advancements can now enable the thorough investigation of speciation processes at different genetic levels, and that in the case of hybrid speciation, new insights into much more general evolutionary processes could be gained. Along with a former PhD student from Lund, Fredrik Haas, I am currently producing first generation hybrids and backcrosses in aviaries to recreate the first step of this process and will compare these data with data from Italian sparrows both at the phenotypic level (using line-cross analyses and quantitative genetic models), at the genomic level (using 454 sequencing) and at the phenotype-genotype map level (e.g. using theoretical models on epistasis).
Of course this is only the beginning, and I will tell you more when we have real data at hand, but for now here is a few pictures of the aviaries and our first eggs (I am really enjoying working with birds, I must say, and this almost comes as a surprise to me...), and also a picture of putative F1 hybrids from a natural history museum which indeed look quite similar to Italian sparrows, at least in some aspects. And by the way if you have any ideas, suggestions or just if you are simply interested, do not hesitate to contact me.
Otherwise, the department is not much different from Lund except it is much bigger, and with less “subgroups”. People make you feel very much welcome and there is plenty of interesting activities, seminars, colloquium. So if you are passing by Oslo, please do not hesitate to join us for some “brod and brun ost” for lunch, (believe me it is not really exciting) or some Norwegian beers in the evening (they are really good, something to think about, Shawn, as their ale is really awesome). I hope I see you guys soon, in Lund or somewhere else, and good luck with all your different projects.