Phillip Gienapp

Phillip Gienapp


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Personal profile

Description of research and teaching

My main interest lies in understanding the evolution of behavioural and life-history traits in natural populations, e.g. avian breeding and migration time and its phenotypic plasticity. This work has included descriptive field work, field experiments and (lately in increasing frequency) analyses of large long-term data sets. Since phenological traits, as breeding or migration time, have been affected by climate change, part of my work focuses on climate change and its effects in natural populations: especially whether phenotypic plasticity and/or microevolution will enable species and populations to cope with the impacts of climate change.

Besides my main focus on behaviour, life-history and climate change I am also interested in (and working on) diverse topics ranging from dispersal to quantitative genetics of morphology in voles to sex allocation in ducks.



Phenotypic plasticity, quantitative genetics and aspects of climate change in avian phenology
Seasonal variation in biotic and abiotic factors creates a short window for successful reproduction, at least in the temperate zone. The timing of migration and breeding have hence strong effects on the individual's fitness. Climate change is already affecting avian breeding and migration time and a better understanding of phenotypic plasticity and genetic variation will help us in assessing possible negative impacts. In one project I focus on spatial variation of phenotypic plasticity of breeding time in great tits. Two other projects deal with individual phenotypic plasticity and quantitative genetics of timing of migration (and breeding) in Danish cormorants and timing of migration in pink-footed geese breeding on Svalbard.

Quantitative genetics in wild populations
Most studies of genetic (co)variances come from large populations of common species, e.g. flycatchers or great tits, and consequently our knowledge of such parameters in small and isolated populations of rare species is much more limited. In this project I study quantitative genetics of behavioral, life-history and morphological traits in small population isolates. I am also studying the constancy of genetic (co)variances across environments of feather traits with a multivariate random regression approach within a Bayesian framework. Another project I am involved in deals with the genetics of survival and longevity in gulls by combining survival analysis with the 'animal model'.

Recently, the so-called 'animal model' has become a popular tool in quantitative genetics to analyse genetic (co)variances in wild populations. Quantitative genetics relies on the fact that relatives resemble each other because they share part of their genes. However, relatives are also likely to share similar environments and thus be more similar than expected from their genes. While this problem has been acknowledged for a long time, it has still not been addressed quantitatively. My aim here is to test how much pedigree-information is actually necessary to obtain reliable heritabilities and genetic correlations using simulated data sets.

Dispersal in fish and birds
Marine populations are generally thought to be panmictic and that no or very little population structuring exists. This view is currently changing and we are testing whether sticklebacks show population structuring at a small spatial level and among different habitats in the archipelago at Tvärminne Zoological Station. Little tern populations are decreasing at a European scale. In a conservation context it is hence interesting how isolated the populations around the Baltic Sea are, which we are addressing using microsatellite markers and population genetic approaches. One interesting side aspect of this project is the genetic change within Danish populations based on a unique data set spanning several decades. In both projects an additional focus is on sex-biased dispersal which links these studies with earlier work sex-biased dispersal and its fitness consequences in birds. In a third project we look at sex-biased dispersal in a lekking bird species. In birds males are generally more philopatric but this pattern may be reversed in lekking species depending on how kin competition and kin cooperation in the lek play out. We aim to test this in capercaillies using microsatellite markers.

Fields of Science

  • 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
  • Climate change
  • Evolutionary genetics
  • Evolutionary Ecology

International and National Collaboration

Publications and projects within past five years.