Research Questions

Why do males and females exist and how have sex roles evolved?

To address this controversial challenge in evolutionary biology, we explore a unique evolutionary novelty, the evolution of male pregnancy in seahorses and pipefish (Syngnathidae). We address adaptations in the evolution of pregnancy, the convergence between male and female pregnancy, and the interaction of males, females, and their biotic (microbes) and abiotic environments. Our goal is to help unravel the convergent evolution of brood care and pregnancy as well as host-microbe interaction.

Does the enemy of my friend make my friend my enemy?

We examine evolutionary adaptation in a marine tripartite interaction. Pipefishes and seahorses, bacteria of the genus Vibrio and their associated filamentous bacteriophages. The phage can integrate into the genome and endow its bacterial host with accessory genes. These genes influence the fitness of the bacterium and can change its virulence towards their final host, the pipefish and seahorses. We explore in evolution and serial passage experiments how the three partners co-evolve and interact with each other with the goal of gaining insight into rapid  virulence evolution as a function of prophage and environment.

Sex or parental investment? Unravel trans-generational plasticity in sex-role reversed animals

The unique male pregnancy system permits to differentiate trans-generational plasticity via the maternal (egg) versus the paternal route (pregnancy). We experimentally manipulate parental abiotic (temperature, salinity) and biotic environment (immunological experience, microbes) to investigate non-genetic transfer of information from parents to offspring and their influence on offspring physiology, microbiome and fitness. 

How to become an evolutionary oddity – the bizarre morphology of pipefishes and seahorses.

Syngnathids are highly derived teleosts that evolved substantial deviations from the generic fish body-plan, e.g., by losing (at least) some fins, all teeth and parts of their immune organs, while they evolved a bony body armor, prehensile tails and male pregnancy. Our understanding of how these traits were lost or gained is still in its infancy, but by focusing on the developmental period and utilizing cutting-edge genomic and transcriptomic technologies we aim to unravel the regulatory basis of some of these traits, which also advances our understanding of why evolutionary divergence is so prominent in specifically this group of fish.

Projects with external funding

Research Facilities & Equipment

We have access to infrastructure at Kiel University, including High Performance Computing facilities, a Bioimaging Center and the Microscopy Center.

Our laboratories (genetic safety labs S1 & S2) are equipped for molecular biology, microbiology, immunology and histology.

We have established a local linux server and NAS storage system to locally run bioinformatic pipelines.

Our animal aquaria facility consists of separate rooms for animals from the Baltic and North Sea, and the tropics. Our experimental facilities permit to run large (72 * 100 L aquaria) and small scale experiments.

We have the only animal S2 animal facility at Kiel University to study the interaction of pipefish with genetically modified microbes, or genetically modified fish.