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Dr. Moira Ferguson

Moira Ferguson


Office: SSC 2480
Ext: 52726
Lab: SSC 1405/1406
Ext: 58596


My interests are focused on understanding the genetics and evolution of complex traits. This was nurtured through B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees at the University of Guelph where I received my first opportunities to investigate the genetics of phenotype in fishes. My continued fascination with this area prompted me to leave Canada and complete my Ph.D. degree under the direction of Fred Allendorf at the University of Montana. Most recently I apply basic information on the genetic architecture of important traits such as body size and age at maturation in Arctic charr, Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout to help solve problems facing the aquaculture industry.


B.Sc. - Guelph 1979
M.Sc. - Guelph 1981
Ph.D. - Montana 1986


My research program focuses on understanding the genetic basis of evolutionary change. In particular I am concentrating on two major components of the evolutionary process. Firstly, I study how genetic differences among individuals lead to variation in the numbers and survival of their offspring (fitness). Secondly, I determine how those genetic differences can become partitioned between populations when they begin to diverge genetically into different species. Salmonid fishes (Atlantic salmon, Arctic charr, rainbow trout, brook charr) continue to be the models for most of this work because their biology makes them interesting candidates for genetic analysis. To address the first component, I am studying the action of natural selection to determine how variation among individuals in measurable traits (phenotypes) leads to differences in the numbers and survival of their offspring. However, to understand how this selection might drive the evolution of phenotypes it is also necessary to appreciate how genetic differences among individuals result in phenotypic differences. I therefore examine the genetic bases of phenotypic traits, both by determining the relative contributions of genetic and environmental effects to their variation, and by identifying regions of the genome that affect their expression. This information is being integrated into the selective breeding programs of several economically important species for aquaculture. Comparative analyses are being done to examine the fate of genes after genome reorganization. Conventional approaches for locating important genes within the genome require families of known brothers and sisters to be used in laboratory-based studies. I am also employing a novel approach in which genetic information is used to reconstruct family relationships in wild populations so that the genes affecting phenotypes can subsequently be identified. To address the second component I examine different forms (morphs) of Arctic charr that differ in both appearance and ecology, and live together in Icelandic lakes. By studying genetic variation in natural populations, and also by carrying out long-term laboratory and field experiments I use these fish to answer questions on the role of such physical variation in promoting the formation of groups that do not mate with each other. In particular I am determining the way in which these different forms might have arisen, and also investigating the role of such forms in the origin of new species. Finally, inventories of genetic markers in economically important species (walleye, cod, sturgeon, trout, charr) are being used to answer questions relevant to their management and conservation.

Selected Publications

Kuettner, E., K.J. Parsons, A.A. Easton, S. Skulason, R.G. Danzmann and M.M. Ferguson. 2014. Hidden genetic variation evolves with ecological specialization: the genetic basis of phenotypic plasticity in Arctic charr ecomorphs. Evolution and Development. 16:247-257.

Allen, M.S., M.M. Ferguson, and R.G. Danzmann. 2014. Molecular markers for variation in spawning date in a hatchery population of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Marine Biotechnology. 16:289-298.

Norman, J.D., M.M. Ferguson and R.G. Danzmann. 2014. Transcriptomics of salinity tolerance capacity in Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus): A comparison of gene expression profiles between divergent Q. Physiological Genomics. 46:123-137.

Kocmarek, A.L., M.M. Ferguson and R.G. Danzmann. 2014. Differential gene expression in small and large rainbow trout derived from two seasonal spawning groups. BMC Genomics. 15: Article 57.

Chiasson, M.A., C.D. Quinton, R.G. Danzmann and M.M. Ferguson. 2013. Comparative analysis of genetic parameters and quantitative trait loci for growth traits in Fraser strain Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) reared in brackish water environments. Journal of Animal Science. 91:2047-2056.

Norman, J.D., M. Robinson, B. Glebe, M.M. Ferguson and R.G. Danzmann. 2012. Genomic arrangement of salinity tolerance QTL in salmonids: A comparative analysis of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) with Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). BMC Genomics. 13:420.

Weese, D., M.M. Ferguson and B.R. Robinson. 2012. Contemporary and historical evolutionary processes interact to shape patterns of within-lake phenotypic divergences in polyphenic pumpkinseed sunfish, Lepomis gibbosus. Ecology and Evolution. 2:574-592.

Kuettner, E., J. Nilsson, S. Skulason, S. Gunnarsson, M.M. Ferguson and R.G. Danzmann. 2012. Intraspecific sex-chromosome polymorphisms in Arctic charr and their shared interspecific homologies. Genome. 54:852-861.

Norman, J.D., B. Glebe, R.G. Danzmann and M.M. Ferguson. 2011. The genetic basis of salinity tolerance traits in Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus). BMC Genetics. 12:81.

Blackie, C., M.B. Morrissey, R.G. Danzmann and M.M. Ferguson. 2011. Genetic divergence among broodstocks of Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus in eastern Canada derived from the same founding populations. Aquaculture Research. 42:1440-1452.

Kuettner, E., H.K. Moghadam, S. Skulason, R.G. Danzmann and M.M. Ferguson. 2011. Genetic architecture of body weight, condition factor and age of sexual maturation in Icelandic Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus). Molecular Genetics and Genomics. 286: 67-86.

Moghadam, H.K., M.M. Ferguson and R.G. Danzmann. 2011. Whole genome duplication - challenges and considerations associated with reconstructing Salmoninae phylogeny. Journal of Fish Biology. 79:561-574.

Parsons, K.J., H.D. Sheets, S. Skulason and M.M. Ferguson. 2011. Phenotypic plasticity, heterochrony, and ontogenetic repatterning during juvenile development of divergent Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus). Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 1640-1652.

Timusk, E.R., M.M. Ferguson, H.K. Moghadam, J.D. Norman, C.C. Wilson and R.G. Danzmann. 2011. Genome evolution in the fish family Salmonidae: Generation of a brook charr genetic map and comparisons among charrs (Arctic charr and brook charr) with rainbow trout. BMC Genetics. 12:68.

Easton, A., H.K. Moghadam, R.G. Danzmann, and M.M. Ferguson. 2011. The genetic architecture of embryonic developmental rate and genetic covariation with age at maturation in rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss. Journal of Fish Biology. 78:602-623.

Kapralova, K.H., M.B. Morrissey, B.K. Kristjansson, G.A. Olafsdottir, S.S. Snorrason and M.M. Ferguson. 2011. Evolution of adaptive diversity and genetic connectivity in Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) in Iceland. Heredity 106:472-487.

Morrissey, M.B. and M.M. Ferguson. 2011. A test for the genetic basis of natural selection: an individual-based longitudinal study in a stream-dwelling fish. Evolution. 65:1037-1047.

Morrissey, M.B. and M.M. Ferguson. 2011. Individual variation in movement over the life cycle of a stream-dwelling salmonid fish. Molecular Ecology. 20:235-248.

Paibomesai, M.I., H.K. Moghadam, M.M. Ferguson and R.G. Danzmann. 2010. Clock genes and their genomic distributions in three species of salmonid fishes: Associations with genes regulating sexual maturation and cell cycling. BMC Research Notes 3:215.

Parsons, K.J., S. Skulason and M.M. Ferguson. 2010. Morphological variation over ontogeny and environments in resource polymorphic arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus). Evolution and Development. 12: 246-257.

Wringe, B.F., R.H. Devlin, M.M. Ferguson, H.K. Moghadam, D. Sakhrani, D., and R.G. Danzmann. 2010. Growth-related quantitative trait loci in domestic and wild rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). BMC Genetics 11:63.


IBIO*4210 Thesis in Integrative Biology
IBIO*6630 Scientific Communication

Grad Students

Matthew Brachmann (MSc)

Christine Ouellet (PhD)

Oliver Franklin (PhD): Phenotypic selection in the early stages of diversifications: Interactions of environment, phenotype and performance in Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus).

*Cameron Nugent (PhD): Genome evolution in Arctic charr.

*Co-advised by Roy Danzmann

Post Doctoral Fellows

Dr. Joe Norman

Recently Completed Theses

Andrea Kocmarek* (PhD 2014): Differential expression of growth genes in the liver and white muscle of small and large rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) produced in two seasons and co-localization with quantitative trait loci.

Joe Norman* (PhD 2013): The genetic architecture of salinity tolerance in salmonids: Insights from genomes, transcriptomes and quantitative trait loci.

Marcia Chiasson* (PhD 2013): The identification of quantitative trait loci (QTL) for variation in body weight of Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) families reared in fresh and brackish water: application to selective breeding programs.

Aaron Goldt* (MSc 2012): Evolutionary analysis and genetic mapping of Neuropeptide Y (NPY) receptors in rainbow trout and arctic charr.

Colin Richardson+ (MSc 2011): Genetic covariation between embryonic developmental rate and precocious maturation in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).

Eva Kuettner* (PhD 2011): Genetics of adaptive divergence and role of natural selection in Icelandic Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus).

Riley Magee+ (MSc 2011): The identification of quantitative trait loci (QTL) for variation in fillet yield and quality in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus

Anne Easton* (MSc 2010): Determination of quantitative trail loci (QTL) for developmental rate and its genetic correlation with age at maturation in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).

Marion Paibomesai* (MSc 2009): Characterization and expression analysis of Clock in outcrossed rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss): associations with differential development rates and life-history traits.

Evan Timusk* (MSc 2009): Quantitative trait loci for developmental rate in brook charr (Salvelinus fontinalis) and a comparative analysis with rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Atlantic salmon (Salmo sala) and Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus).

Michael Morrissey (PhD 2008): Evolution in natural populations: molecular marker-based inference of life history and quantitative genetic data.

Kevin Parsons (PhD 2008): Phenotypic plasticity and the genetic basis of adaptive divergence in Icelandic Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus).

Kalina Kaplova (MSc 2008 University of Iceland): Evolutionary origins of widespread small benthic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) over different geographic scales in Iceland.

Anibal Castilo*(MSc 2008): The 4R genome duplication in salmonine fishers: insights from conserved non-coding elements.

*Co-advised by Roy Danzmann

+Co-advised by Nick Bernier