I am a molecular ecologist interested in the drivers of molecular diversity and adaptive potential in natural systems. My PhD revolved around the role of gene flow in shaping adaptive and invasive potential in natural populations based on a quantitative genetic framework and on genomic analysis of genetic polymorphisms. I then used similar genomic tools to study how habitat fragmentation can impact genetic co-structure in a spatial host-parasite network, and to make inferences on co-evolutionary potential, a form of adaptive potential specifically addressing the ability of hosts and parasites to counter-evolve (ongoing). I also explore(d) how various ecological disciplines, in particular molecular ecology and species distribution modeling, can be united to inform biodiversity conservation.
In my current post-doctoral research, I predominantly study how epigenomic variation is spatially distributed and to what extent this epigenomic variation co-varies with genome-wide genetic variation, using the woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca) as a model species. My main goal is to study to what extent an overall measure of molecular diversity, integrating both genetic and epigenetic variation, could reflect the adaptive potential of natural populations. As part of this overarching goal, I will study the role of transposable elements as drivers of molecular diversity.
Population epigenomics in natural systems
One single genome can enable multiple evolutionary trajectories as a result of molecular variation beyond the DNA sequence. This epigenetic variation can manifest itself in the methylome (DNA methylation), the chromatin interactome (3D chromatin landscape) and the mobilome (transposable elements) as major components of the epigenome. Epigenetic variation in any of these epigenetic processes can allow individuals to cope with newly emerging stressors and changing environmental conditions, and therefore represents a core element of individual fitness. As a consequence, intra- and inter-population variability in the epigenomic signature is key to population evolutionary potential and persistence. This epigenomics perspective on evolution in natural systems propels the field of population epigenomics, and new insights into the spatial distribution and drivers of epigenetic variation keep emerging. Although the involvement of epigenetic variation in fitness and genotype × environment interactions is beyond doubt, the magnitude of epigenetic inheritance, and the mechanisms by which epigenetic variation can boost evolution (e.g. genetic assimilation), remain underexplored. Such open questions, however, provide opportunities for further research aiming to resolve the highly intertwined nature of genetic and epigenetic variation, and to bring the field to the forefront of evolutionary and conservation science. Here, I show how “population epigenomics” has moved in the past decade, I highlight major advances in the field, and I present research directions aiming to unravel when, and to what extent, epigenomic variation shapes evolutionary trajectories in natural systems.