Our team members are at the core of what makes Merilä Lab such a unique and fulfilling place to work. We take pride in the diversity of our staff, with each member contributing their unique skills to the projects we are working on.
I am an evolutionary biologist with many research interests. Lot of my research has revolved around problems related to animal adaptation new and changing environmental conditions, as well as to find ways to overcome the challenges in differentiating among alternative explanations for phenotypic differentiation over spatial and temporal gradients. Factors influencing likelihood of parallel and convergent evolution, as well as genetics of ecologically important traits are topics that continue to fascinate me. One could perhaps say that studies relating to biodiversity at genetic level would broadly capture what I have been interested about and where my current research interests also reside. I am very fond of Labrador Retrievers.
Research Assistant Professor
I am an evolutionary geneticist who has an interest in both basic and applied research pertaining to anadromous fish species and the consequences of their isolation in freshwater. I completed my PhD at the University of Pretoria (South Africa) in 2016 which focused on understanding how marine temperate fish species colonized South Africa from the eastern Atlantic. I then did a postdoc at UC Santa Cruz (USA) which focused on applied fisheries research on anadromous river herring where I addressed questions on the composition of bycatch around southern New England, as well as the consequences of secondary contact between anadromous and isolated freshwater ecotypes after habitat restoration using a whole lake experiment. I then did a postdoc at Stony Brook University (USA) which focused on the rapid contemporary adaptation of marine threespine stickleback to freshwater, using a genomics approach and unique whole-lake experiments in Alaska. At HKU my research is currently focused on the role recombination plays to facilitate adaptation to new environments using threespine and ninespine stickleback.
Arthur Francis Sands
I started my career in evolutionary genomics at the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa) where I obtained my BSc and BSc Hon. degrees in Biodiversity & Ecology and an MSc in Zoology. I furthered this as a Marie Curie Fellow, completing a PhD in Animal Ecology & Systematics at Justus Liebig University (Germany) in 2020. I have always had a passion for genetics and its link to the natural world. This passion means that I am highly interested in using modern genetic principles to obtain a greater understanding of the dynamics of organisms and biological systems - particularly through biogeography, phylogenetics and taxonomy. I have been fortunate to work on several different groups of biota (inc. mice, ticks & molluscs, crustaceans and birds) across the globe and to answer practical biological questions assisting conservation. I have always had a love for ornithology and birds: from the time I was able to write I have been marking off birds in various field guides and my interest in them goes back as early as I can remember. Today my research at HKU is mainly directed at the speciation and biogeography of the Sulpher-crested Cockatoo (C. galerita) the genetic aspects of forest bird invasions (specifically in Hong Kong).
Astrid Alex Andersson
I am a conservation biologist, broadly interested in applying scientific techniques to mitigate biodiversity decline in the Anthropocene – particularly issues related to wildlife trade, species introductions, and urban ecology. My PhD research involved using stable isotope analysis to detect illegal trade in an introduced population of critically endangered cockatoos in Hong Kong, as well as biotic factors restricting their success in this alien, urban environment. As such, these cockatoos provide a model through which I examine a variety of research questions, the main one being; how can this city population contribute to the conservation of this species globally? Next, I plan to use genetic tools to investigate this further. As a National Geographic Explorer I also studied divergences in breeding ecology between Hong Kong’s urban cockatoos, and this species in its native habitat (Komodo National Park, Indonesia), as well as the use of nest boxes to support macaw populations in the Peruvian Amazon. Ultimately, I hope to assess the genetic and reproductive health of Hong Kong’s Yellow-crested Cockatoos (Cacatua sulphurea) and how they can support the recovery of native, wild populations going forward. Visit my website here and my Twitter @AA_Andersson.
I am a conservation biologist, I obtained my MSc. degree majoring in Nature Conservation at Beijing Forestry University in 2012, a postgraduate diploma on Wildlife Conservation and Practice at Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Oxford University in 2013, a Ph.D. degree majoring in Ecology and Biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in 2022. I worked as a research assistant in the Wildlife Institute, Beijing Forestry University before I joined HKU, where I participated in Feline survey of snow leopard in the plateau desert ecosystem in Northwest China and Indochinese tiger in the tropical forest ecosystem in Southwest China. These adventures touched my heart and inspired me to build stronger connections with nature and this was realized on my PhD journey through studying ecology of the largest terrestrial mammal in Asia - Asian elephants. I evaluated the impact of land use changes, urban expansion and linear infrastructure development to the long-term viability of Asian elephants, mapped habitat suitability across their entire range in China and studied population demography and structure among fragmented populations using DNA extracted from dung piles. It was brilliant to apply genetic tools to draw a picture of population demography history that dated back to the past, which assists our understanding of contemporary patterns and policy-making based on evidence from science. It is a new journey for me to join the Merilä Lab from October 2022 on, this creates opportunities for me to dive into a world that best utilize population genomics data and front line techniques to enhance our understanding of science towards species adaptation to the environments. I am quite looking forward to the scenery along the route.
Xueling (Ling) Yi
I have a broad interest in evolutionary biology and biodiversity. My research includes population genetics, biogeography, phylogeography, and phylogeny, mostly using genetic and genomic methods in non-model animals. I obtained my Ph.D. in May 2022 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the United States, working on the molecular evolution and biogeography of the New World Eptesicus bats. I joined the Merilä Lab in August 2022 to continue working on evolutionary biology and population genomics in nine-spined sticklebacks. Current research projects include the patterns of sex-specific gene flow between stickleback populations using whole genome sequencing data, the evolution of sex chromosomes and sex determination systems, and the quantitative trait (QTL) analyses of adaptive traits in freshwater sticklebacks. I also have continuous research interests and side-projects on the evolution and conservation of bats. Read more about me on my personal website.
Chaowei (Charlene) Zhang
I started to be interested in marine ecology and evolutionary genetics from 2013 when I was one of the undergraduate students at the CN National Science Training Base Program, Nanjing Normal University. I furthered my study in population and quantitative genetics at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IEB), the University of Edinburgh, where at the same time I obtained a wide range of skills in biostatistics and genome analyses. I researched especially on animal models and phylogenetic comparative analyses during my thesis project. The working experience at the international academic publisher, Springer Nature Group, broadened my knowledge in academic publications and science communications, also from when I realised my strong passion to restart my genomic research journey. Here at HKU, my research will mainly focus on the population dynamics and the quantitative genetic variations of the nine-spined (Pungitius pungitius) and three-spined (Gasterosteus aculeatus) sticklebacks.
Xi (Cecilia) Wang
I grew my interests in marine fish species at the School of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University where I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Then I worked as a research assistant in the Institute of Aquatic Economic Animals to further my studies of groupers and sea breams. I developed molecular genomic markers of above fish species for parentage assignment and the evaluation of stock enhancement. I was also involved in the studies of population genetics, sexual selection and comparative transcriptomics.
Coming to HKU, my research turns to a freshwater species – loach. It is interesting to find out why loaches able to maintain viable populations in face of genetic perils of isolation.
I am interested in the questions on evolutionary processes. During my post-graduate period, I have been focusing on the topics of species adaptation to the environment and genomics evolution, especially on angiosperms living in the QTP. In my PhD, I aim to study the early stages of sex chromosome evolution by investigating sex chromosome turnover in the nine-spine stickleback model system. I will identify the sex determination systems in both lineages and assemble their sex chromosomes, which will provide a platform by which I will investigate several poorly understood phenomena regarding evolution of young sex chromosomes.
I have loved cats ever since I was a child. Growing up, I would count the number of cats I saw on the streets and name them individually (my first ever population census!). As I learned more about the beautiful and amazing creatures in nature, I became fascinated by a diverse range of animals and that sets my path to becoming a biologist. I obtained a BSc in Zoology at the University of Edinburgh, where I developed an interest in conservation genetics. Afterwards, I obtained a master’s degree in Computational Methods in Ecology and Evolution at Imperial College London. Previous projects I’ve worked on include the genetics of red squirrels in Scotland (Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh), and the habitat suitability of urban mammals in Greater London (Zoological Society London, ZSL).
My main research interest lies in cats - all wild cats big and small, especially felines in high-altitude ecosystems. I’m also interested in mammals, urban ecology, human-wildlife relationship and GIS. At HKU, I will be researching the impacts of free-ranging cats and dogs on the fauna of Hong Kong. Get in touch if you would like to chat about Felidae! Twitter @uvafung
It was my pure passion for ecology that inspired me to change my major from mechanical engineering when I was an undergraduate. During my study in Lanzhou University (MSc), I mainly focused on the evolution issues and phylogenetic problems of angiosperm. In my studies, I’m especially skilled at karyotype analyses and reconstruction, converting and manipulating them to practical and valuable outputs for the solution of evolution puzzles. Further in HKU, I will put my energy into the dissection of populations of several invaded avian species in Hong Kong, putting insights into their distribution patterns, molecular diversity and features, population history, etc., which aims to output a comprehensive understanding of patterns and reasons for successful invasion.
To be updated.
Lo Gar Yee, Maria
Postdoc or PhD student
& Resident Bioinformatician.
LILLI, AKA DARKMYS BARCHERLOTTE
Lab of the Lab - Probably the most intense lab in the world
RYMY, AKA BOOMPAW'S VELVET SCOTER
In Memoriam - 13 years of solid support for science
Therapist/comedian for stress and comic relief