My research aims to understand evolutionary patterns in natural populations and the mechanisms behind them, with an emphasis on historical perspectives.
Adaptation of reptiles and amphibians to high-elevation environments
Elucidating the process of adaptation and understanding its genetic basis is a major mission of modern evolutionary biology. Elevational gradient provides one of the best systems for studying adaptive evolution. We have been working on two groups of poikilothermic animals. All of them are common species at or around the Tibetan Plateau, and are easy to identify and obtain in the wild. 1) Toad-headed lizards of the genus Phrynocephalus are endemic to the central Asia desert and several of them are true high- elevation dwellers (5300m) of the Tibetan Plateau. High elevation species (e.g.Phrynocephalus vlangalii) possess a series of genetic and physiological traits that likely represent adaptation to high-elevation environments. 2) The Asiatic toad (Bufo gargarizans) occupies several mountain ranges across an extremely large elevational gradient from 0 to 4300m. Some populations have been Plateau dwellers for approximately 2.5 millions of years. It provides an excellent opportunity to conduct intra-specific comparison. We are examining these organisms from morphological, behavioural, physiological and genomic levels.
Speciation processes and phylogenomic/ population genomic analysis
The most fundamental unit of biodiversity is the species, and understanding the speciation process is the key for understanding biodiversity. Phylogenetic analysis creates opportunities to look at species from a historical and evolutionary perspective, and genomic data provide a capacity to examine history at multiple levels, such as genes, populations, and species. We are currently studying a frog species (Odorrana margaratea) with a ring-shaped diversification pattern around the Sichuan Basin at western China. Its small spatial scale (micro ring), abundant populations, existence of multiple hybrid zones, and a clearly illustrated history provide excellent opportunities to examine the evolution of reproductive isolation in face of gene flow.