Marie Nydam and her students use phylogenomic and population genetic tools to study evolutionary questions. The lab focuses on ascidians (sea squirts) as model organisms for allorecognition, phylogenomics, and invasion biology. Botryllid ascidians are colonial animals, and fusion between related colonies is genetically controlled. The genetic basis of allorecognition has been well-documented in one species, Botryllus schlosseri. In collaboration with the Anchored Phylogenomics group at Florida State University, we have developed a well-resolved phylogeny of the botryllid ascidians using 200 loci developed from 7 sequenced genomes. This phylogeny will allow us to study the evolution of allorecognition across the entire group of 50+ species.
Many ascidian species have become successfully introduced around the world via anthropogenic vectors, with a few species causing extensive ecological and economic damage. Invasive ascidians have effected declines in native species richness, altered benthic community structure, and disrupted the link between pelagic and benthic communities. Despite the central positions that ascidians will occupy in the marine ecosystems of the future, their evolutionary histories are not well known. We are uncovering the origins and dispersal patterns of non-native ascidians in southern California, so we can begin to predict the composition and function of future marine benthic communities.
Marie Nydam, PhD