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About me: Phillip Watts

I studied at Liverpool University for my BSc (Hons) and PhD, before undertaking post-doctoral work at CEFAS (https://www.cefas.co.uk Lowestoft, UK), the University of Liverpool (http://www.liv.ac.uk UK) and ILRI (http://www.ilri.org Nairobi, Kenya), University of Stirling (http://www.stir.ac.uk UK). I obtained a lectureship at the University of Liverpool in 2005.  I spent a sabbatical year at the Department of Biology, University of Jyväskylä, in 2011-2012 and in 2014 I moved to the University of Oulu, Finland.  

 

My research is broadly centred about ecological genomics and conservation. This involves the use of genetic and genomic technology to study spatial genetic structure and adaptation, and often integrates field or laboratory experiments to assess fitness of specific genotypes. Molecular-genetic markers are used also to address more applied biological problems, for example defining the scale of protected areas, identifying source-sink population structure and determining the eco-evolutionary consequences of anthropogenic changes to the environment.  

Some projects and people

 

Mammals

Research into the evolutionary and behavioural ecology of the bank vole begun with my sabbatical to the University of Jyväskylä (https://www.jyu.fi/en/), Finland where I begun a collaboration with Tapio Mappes (http://users.jyu.fi/~tmappes/) and Esa Koskela (https://www.jyu.fi/bioenv/en/divisions/eko/personnel/cards/ekoskela), and subsequently continued work with Zbyszek Boratynski (http://users.jyu.fi/~boratyns/ and http://cibio.up.pt/people/37/12). We are presently assessing how polymorphisms are maintained in arginine vasopressin 1a receptor and oxytocin receptor, genes that play an important role in mammalian socio-sexual behaviour, largely through the hard work of Eija Lönn (https://www.jyu.fi/bioenv/en/divisions/eko/personnel/cards/lonn), Mika Mokkonen (https://www.jyu.fi/bioenv/en/divisions/eko/personnel/cards/mimokkon) and Angela Sims (https://www.jyu.fi/bioenv/en/divisions/eko/personnel/cards/sims).

 

 

With Tapio and Zbyszek we are now studying the eco-evolutionary consequences of inhabiting areas contaminated by radioactive fallout (at the Chernobyl reactor 4, Ukraine) in collaboration with Tim Mousseau (http://cricket.biol.sc.edu/Mousseau/Mousseau.html) and Anders Møller (http://www.ese.u-psud.fr/article226.html?lang=en). As part of this work we are using a whole range of molecular techniques (including ddRAD, qPCR, RT-PCR and Western blotting) to assess some of the genetic, epigenetic and genomic changes associated with chronic exposure to ionising radioactivity, with my interests directed towards DNA protection and repair mechanisms.


 

I also collaborate with Brad Cain at Manchester Metropolitan University (http://www.sste.mmu.ac.uk/staff/staffbiog/default.asp?StaffID=1133) where we applied non-invasive genotyping to discover that an individual's genetic diversity (heterozygosity, a proxy for inbreeding) determines reproductive success, but only in males.  You can read about this work in Conservation Biology (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12175/abstract;jsessionid=264B471C21E5E28FE3A08FD890212B4D.f01t03).   


 

Dragonflies and damselflies

A long-standing interest has been to quantify the population genetic structure and determinants of fitness in damselflies, principally the southern damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale and the azure damselfly Coenagrion puella; this work was started by collaboration with Dave Thompson (http://www.liv.ac.uk/integrative-biology/staff/david-thompson/) and has been sustained by lots of hard work and dedication from Sonia Ferreira and much input from Chris Hassall (http://www.christopherhassall.com). You can read how parasites affect damselfie fitness, for example, in Ecology Letters (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01655.x/abstract). 

Following collaborations with Adolfo Cordero (http://ecoevo.uvigo.es/about-us-2/), I am involved with a particularly exciting project through Olalla Lorenzo-Carballa's Marie Curie Fellowship, where we are using next-generation sequencing techniques (ddRAD, transcriptomics) to uncover the genomic consequences of adopting parthenogenesis, this project thus studies Ischnura hastata populations from the Azores which is the only case on natural parthenogenesis in damselflies.

 

Protists

I am interested in understanding patterns of population genetic structure and adaptation, and the response to environment change, in protists (eukarotic microbes), largely through studying the marine flagellate Oxyrrhis marina; much of this work relied on the skills of Chris Lowe (who is now a lecturer at the University of Exeter http://biosciences.exeter.ac.uk/staff/index.php?web_id=Chris_Lowe) and Ewan Minter (who completed his PhD and has now take a post-doc position at York http://www.york.ac.uk/biology/itsupport/cfm/post_doc/profile.cfm?ID=1319) in collaboration with Mike Brockhurst (https://www.york.ac.uk/biology/research/ecology-evolution/michael-brockhurst/). 

Some interesting results from our research into Oxyrrhis marina have been published in BMC Genomics (http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2164/12/519), PNAS (http://www.pnas.org/content/109/51/20998.full.pdf), Methods in Ecology and Evolution (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/2041-210X.12321/abstract), and Biology Letters (http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/11/6/20150192). 

  

 

E-mail: phillip.watts[at]oulu.fi

 

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