The overarching theme of my research is understanding Evolution, adaptation, movement, and persistence in situ by linking organisms to their changing biotic and abiotic landscapes. As part of this research program, I study adaptive traits, functional genomics, key innovations, landscape genomics, phylogenetics, the evolution of species boundaries, and conservation genetics.
Landscape Genetics, Phylogeography, Adaptive Radiations, and Biodiversity of African Frogs
My primary research program (and PhD thesis topic) focuses on diversification of African amphibians. African amphibians have excellent potential to address fundamental questions in evolution and conservation. This system is of wide interest and high importance for landscape analyses of biodiversity, speciation mechanisms, adaptive divergence, and conservation. During my Ph.D., I used molecular, ecological, and spatial analyses to determine the relationship between shifting landscape variables, key innovations, and evolutionary history of African frogs. I independently designed and funded this research, and have maintained an active field program in East Africa and a preserved collection at the Field Museum (Chicago) in order to continue this research.
Lawson and Moyer 2008, Lawson 2010, Loader et al. 2011, Lawson and Collett 2011, Lawson and Zimkus 2011, Zimkus et al. 2012, Lawson 2013, Loader et al. 2015, Lawson 2015, Zimkus, Lawson et al. 2017, Barrett, Lawson et al. 2017, Bittencourt-Silva, Lawson et al. 2017, Conradie et al. 2018.
Functional Genomics, Conservation Genomics, and Landscape Analyses of Darwin’s Finches
My current work at the University of Cincinnati (with Ken Petren) is on landscape and functional genomics of Darwin’s (Galapagos) finches.
Understanding evolutionary potential in a mosaic ecosystem (landscape genomics), long-term population genetics and extinction risk, and functional genomics of key morphological traits are particularly relevant to my interests in the relationship between animals and the (changing) landscape. Through a combination of genetics and genomics from museum specimens (~100 years old), we are tracking extinction and sustainability across the archipelago. We are also intimately involved with conservation genetics of the endangered Mangrove finch. We have looked at species introgression and evolutionary history across the Darwin's Finch radiation, and are currently exploring functional genomics of beak shape within the ground finches (Geospiza). My most recent projects involve investigating both adaptive and neutral variation within Darwin’s finches in high competition vs. low competition environments.
Farrington and Lawson et al. 2014, Lawson et al. 2017, Lawson and Petren 2017, Farrington and Lawson et al. in review.
Hybrid Zone Dynamics, Evolutionary History of Contact, and Species Boundaries/Speciation
My pre-doctoral work at Berkeley on Ensatina salamander hybrid zones and postdoctoral work on fire ant hybrid zone genomics piqued my interest in species interactions and the situational break-down of species barriers. I have since extended my research analyses to East African sengis, and plan to extend this research to genomic analyses of African amphibians and Darwin's Finches. Understanding inter-species interactions and potential hybridization is becoming increasingly relevant as climate shifts and habitat modification drive overlap and interactions of once allopatric species pairs. A better understanding of historical and current processes will allow better conservation under these circumstances.
Alexandrino et al. 2005, Lawson et al. 2013.