|From left to right: Yoel Stuart, Cole Thompson (the author), Andrew Doggett (a high school teacher), and Brian Lohman|
Once the field season ended I continued working in the lab performing DNA extractions and morphometric analysis on the specimens collected on Vancouver Island until the end of the summer. During this time I became awed by being part of the scientific process. I was doing science. Not only had I helped collect specimens, but now I was generating data for analysis and I wanted to find out what the data said. To do that, I began volunteering in the lab after my summer contract ended. I sorted through benthic samples, took pictures of the fish we collected, used these pictures to measure differences in morphological traits, dissected out gill rakers and gut contents, examined gut contents for parasites, and transcribed ecological data. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to learn how the environment and evolution has shaped these fish. As we sorted through the data, our preliminary data from the pictures of the fish showed that some lake stream pairs are evolving in a parallel fashion but this could be entirely antiparallel to other lake stream pairs, showing that there is clustering in directionality, but no steadfast uniformly parallel direction of evolution that holds across all watersheds. Dr. Yoel Stuart worked tirelessly on this project, and with help from Dr. Bolnick, formalized his findings on parallel evolution in the lake and stream in a Nature Evolution and Ecology in May 2017 titled Contrasting effects of environment and genetics generate a continuum of parallel evolution, showing that the environment dictated the direction of evolution, but genetics dictated the extent to which evolution occurred. My field and lab work earned me co-authorship on this paper.
I worked, and worked, and worked on this project from summer 2014 until the November 2017 Evolution publication titled Many‐to‐one form‐to‐function mapping weakens parallel morphological evolution(Thompson et al 2017 Evolution). The results from my data collection and functional calculations showed that there is increasingly weak parallel evolution for biomechanical systems in which there are a greater number of morphological combinations that can generate the same functional output. That is, systems that are one-to-one in form and function are more parallel to each other than systems that are many-to-one in form and function, as there are multiple solutions that generate the same value. I also collaborated with a fellow undergraduate Newaz Ahmed documenting the not-so-parallel evolution of brain morphology in these stickleback (Ahmed et al 2017 Ecology and Evolution).
There are more where this came from...