What does this lab work on?

A phylogenetically diverse assemblage of studies of diversity - how are species distributed, how are alleles within species distributed, how do these patterns relate to one another? In some ways it is ecology - the distribution and abundance of cell types in a developing functional organ, the variation in abundance of microbes in coral mucus, the interaction of epibiont life history with the distribution and abundance of hosts. In some ways we do genetics - at least, we study how heritable variation can distinguish parasite from host, how organisms move through the environment using DNA as a tracking device, whether a trait is environmental or genetically determined.

And in most cases, the organism we work on is wet. Marine, freshwater, salt marsh, they’re all just fine.

Much of our work is geographic in nature. Understanding the mechanisms that maintain diversity and limit the distribution of organisms is fundamental to explaining global patterns that exist in marine communities, and how these patterns will change with the climate. Working with Jamie Pringle and Jeb Byers, we have two audacious tasks ahead of us: gleaning distributional and life history data from the literature and extant databases to build a matrix of population and species ranges for the western Atlantic Ocean, and using these data to parameterize and extend our theoretical work on the selective and competitive differential needed to maintain range limits among and within (in the case of alleles) species distributions.

The most recent publications from this work:

Pringle, J. M., J. E. Byers, R. He, P. Pappalardo, & J.P. Wares. (2017). Ocean currents and competitive strength interact to cluster benthic species range boundaries in the coastal ocean. Marine Ecology Progress Series 567:29-40.
Pappalardo, P., J. M. Pringle, J. P. Wares, J. E. Byers. 2015. The location, strength, and mechanisms behind marine biogeographic boundaries of the east coast of North America. Ecography, DOI: 10.1111/ecog.01135

We also continue exploring spatial patterns in genetic diversity that lead to novel understanding of how abiotic forces affect the distribution of that diversity. For example, distributional patterns in mitochondrial diversity in the Chilean barnacle Notochthamalus scabrosus have helped us elucidate oceanic causes for important biogeographic transitions along the Chilean coast; we are currently exploring similar patterns in the North American barnacle Chthamalus fragilis.

Govindarajan, A. F., F. Bukša, *K. Bockrath, J. P. Wares, J. Pineda. 2015. Phylogeographic structure and northward range expansion in the barnacle Chthamalus fragilis. PeerJ 3:e926 https://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.926
Ewers-Saucedo*, C., J. M. Pringle, H. H. Sepúlveda, J. E. Byers, S. A. Navarrete, and J. P. Wares. 2016. The oceanic concordance of phylogeography and biogeography: A case study in Notochthamalus. Ecology & Evolution, DOI: 10.1002/ece3.2205

More recently (updated 12/2017), some of our work has been focused on sea star wasting disease in the Pacific Ocean. This is an extension of what we have always done - identified intraspecific diversity and shown how it associates with particular geographic ranges, habitats, or phenotypes. In this case, a mutation in a single gene region in the genome of Pisaster ochraceus has led to some really intriguing discovery, and we are now funded to follow this work up with continued monitoring and experimental work.

Wares, J. P. and L. Schiebelhut*. 2016. What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger: An association between elongation factor 1-α overdominance in the sea star Pisaster ochraceus and "sea star wasting disease”. PeerJ 4:e1876 DOI:10.7717/peer1876
Chandler, V. K*. and J. P. Wares. 2017. RNA expression and disease tolerance are associated with a “keystone mutation” in the ochre sea star Pisaster ochraceus. PeerJ 5:e3696; DOI 10.7717/peerj.3696