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.
Chair Professor, Research Division Director
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.
I am an evolutionary biologist interested in understanding how phenotypic and genetic variation is generated, maintained or eroded through biological evolution. I am particularly interested in the effects of evolutionary mechanisms involved in the colonization of new habitats - whether contemporary (e.g. biological invasions) or historical (e.g. post-glaciation colonization) - on the levels of genetic variation in natural populations. My current research project seeks to understand the effects of effective population size (Ne) on different aspects of quantitative genetic variability in natural populations. Specifically, I aim to understand how historical dynamics of Ne have influenced additive and dominance genetic variance levels as well as mutation loads in the nine-spined sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius). The repeated colonization of freshwater habitats by P. pungitius from large-sized marine populations resulted in the establishment of landlocked small populations, which provide an opportune model to study the role of selection, drift and mutation between populations with markedly different Ne.
My areas of research cover population and quantitative genetics, geometric morphometrics and experimental biology
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.
Under the guidance of devoted professors, I quickly grew my 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. I have been fortunate to work on several different groups of biota (inc. mice, ticks & molluscs) across the globe and to answer practical biological questions; assisting conservation, taxonomy and our understanding of speciation and migration (among others). However, I have always had a love affair for ornithology and birds: from the time I was able to write I have been marking off birds in various filed guides and my interest in them goes back as early as I can remember. Today my research is mainly directed at the genetic aspects of avian invasions (specifically in Hong Kong) and how they can help us better protect and manage our natural environments globally.
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.
I am an evolutionary ecologist primarily interested in how animals response to climate change, by using long-term individual based field data. I am mainly working on two passerine species: the hair-crested drongo (Dicrurus hottentottus) in central China and the superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) in southeast Australia. For both species, I test how climate influence breeding phenology and reproductive success, how climate affect individual mortality, and whether climate change contribute to the population decline and through which vital rate. For my own drongo project, I also test why the morphological trait (tarsus length) increased dramatically across the last decade. By using genome-wide association analysis, I aim to identify the relevant genes that causing the variations of tarsus length between individuals, and to examine whether the relevant gene of tarsus length is changing across years. Interested PhD students and postdocs are welcome to get in touch to discuss the research opportunities.
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.
Postdoc or PhD student
RYMY, AKA BOOMPAW'S VELVET SCOTER
In Memoriam - 13 years of solid support for science
LILLI, AKA DARKMYS BARCHERLOTTE
Lab of the Lab - Probably the most intense lab in the world