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Dr Joseph DiBattista

Curtin University


Presentation Title


Pathways and perils: Genetic approaches to infer ecological and evolutionary patterns in a specialized group of reef fish

 Ecology, Environment and Evolution Session



Closely related species can provide valuable insights into evolutionary processes through their ecology, distribution, and the history recorded in their genomes. Butterflyfish are particularly interesting given that they are dependent on coral reefs for food and shelter, and represent a model system to study general questions of biogeography, ecology, and evolution. From a biogeographic perspective, butterflyfishes are prominent in fish assemblages of one of the most unique and geologically complex regions of the world’s oceans, the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. This environment at the western periphery of the Indo-Pacific is characterized by strong latitudinal gradients in water temperature, salinity, and nutrient load that may act as ecological barriers to larval dispersal and the eventual settlement of marine fauna. The aim of this presentation is to outline our recent experiences building up genomic resources for “non-model” butterflyfish species by sequencing and annotating the genome of the range-restricted blacktail butterflyfish, which may serve as a starting point for investigations of genes underlying adaptation to the unique Arabian environment. I will further discuss: 1) isolating restriction site associated DNA (RAD-seq) single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers to quantify connectivity and natural selection in nine butterflyfish species from the Red Sea and Arabian Sea, 2) how we validated the butterflyfish genome as a scaffold for congeneric RAD-seq data, 3) meta-barcoding their gut contents to characterize diet and niche partitioning, and 4) deep sequencing ultraconserved elements (UCEs) across the Chaetodontidae family to help explain the high levels of endemism in the region.



Joseph is an Early Career Research Fellow (ECRF) at Curtin University in Western Australia. He holds a Ph.D. from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, completed an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship at the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), USA, and recently completed a postdoctoral position at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), where he designed a project testing competing biogeographic hypotheses related to endemism and isolation of Red Sea and Arabian Sea marine fauna. His research is directed towards understanding the origins of species-level biodiversity and how it is maintained. He is interested in the integration of classical and novel molecular approaches to resolve patterns of genetic variation within and between marine populations (or species), identifying historical and contemporary factors that influence separation of such populations (or species), incorporating phylogeographic findings into the design of marine protected areas, as well as tracking ecological and evolutionary responses in natural (or experimental) populations.


Last Updated on Thursday, 17 August 2017 01:22
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