Islands have a longstanding and fruitful history as natural laboratories for the study of ecological and evolutionary processes, and they are of disproportionate relevance as biodiversity hotspots. In spite of this, still little is known about what microevolutionary and historical demographic processes occurred within islands during the Plio-Pleistocene evolutionary history of island endemics, as well testified by the paucity of intra-island phylogeographies available (less of 5% of the phylogeographic studies carried out so far). Using phylogeographic, historical demographic and spatial distribution modeling approaches, I’m investigating the evolutionary history and patterns of intraspecific diversity of various species endemic to the Corsica-Sardinia island complex – which is a hotspot of Mediterranean biodiversity – with the main aim of understanding how these species coped with the Plio-Pleistocene climatic oscillations and what microevolutionary processes molded their current diversity. Preliminary results are intriguing, suggesting glacial expansions of temperate species and repeated cycles of population fragmentation and secondary admixture within islands. When seeing these results in the context of what has been said on the role of Plio-Pleistocene glaciations in moulding species’ranges and intraspecific patterns of diversity, it appears that - in general - the diversity of responses of species to paleoenvironmental changes could have been even wider than previously thoughts, and that the Corsica-Sardinia island complex could be a top-level lab for the study of such diversity.
Mauro Zampiglia Postdoctoral fellow
I’m interested in biodiversity conservation. For my PhD studies, I investigated how multiple factors can 'conspire' to produce declines in amphibian populations. I am studying several amphibians endemic to the Italian peninsula and, as potential 'conspirators', factors including population genetic diversity, environmental changes - including climate changes - and shifts in host-pathogen dynamics. Finally, among pathogens, I am focusing on the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, the etiological agent of chytridiomycosis, Amphibiocystidium sp., which causes amphibiocystidiosis, and some lung-worms of the genus Rhabdias.
Michela Maura PhD student
I am interested in the effects of past climate and climate-linked environmental changes on species’ range dynamics and demographic processes. The main aim of my PhD studies is to understand whether some glaciation-induced environmental changes, such as the widening of coastal plains, could have counterbalanced the influence of glacial climate on population dynamics, leading to net demographic expansions rather than contractions of lowland-adapted species. I am focusing on the Po plain (central Italy), an area that underwent dramatic changes in its surface extension following climatic oscillations and, as model species, on two lowland/wetland-associated amphibians. To assess the plausibility of a scenario involving glacial expansions of these species, I am both looking for the genetic imprints left by historical demographic processes and using paleodistribution modelling approaches.
Valeria Pasqualini PhD student
I'm interested in the evolutionary, ecological and conservation implications of non-native species introductions. One of the most interesting consequence of introductions is the frequent hybridization with native species, a process that has at least two important implications: on the one hand, it could pose serious threats to the conservation of native species, by favouring invasiveness of non-native or hybrid lineages, or by disrupting locally adapted genotypes; on the other hand, the hybridization between previously allopatric lineages - mimicking the early stages of formation of secondary contact zones - offers the unique opportunity to test the reliability of longstanding hypotheses derived from historically formed hybrid zones. For my PhD work I am investigating the patterns of hybridization and introgression among native and non-native, and between non-native, lineages of green frogs in several localities of the Italian peninsula. My work is mostly based on the use of molecular markers, however, by explicitly taking into account the environmental heterogeneity of the study sites, I also aim to assess the possible role of this heterogeneity in mediating the outcomes of interactions between frog lineages.
Francesco Paolo Caputo PhD past student
My main research interest concerns the relative contribution of long-term stability, historical fragmentation and introgressive hybridization in shaping current patterns of genetic diversity in the southern Italian hotspot of biodiversity. Using allozymes, microsatellites, nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA as molecular markers, as well as paleodistribution modelling, I am studying intraspecific hybrid zones recently identified for several species in the Calabrian Plio-Pleistocene refugium. I am also especially interested in the implications of results from these studies with respect to the identification of effective practices for biodiversity conservation.