Oliver Betz

Institute of Evolution and Ecology, University of Tübingen, Germany

Oliver Betz gained a Ph.D. from the University of Bayreuth, Germany, in 1994 for his work on the morphology, function, and evolution of the prey-capture apparatus in Stenus rove beetles. He then became interested in the broader fields of functional and ecological morphology and qualified in 2002 as a professor in ecology and zoology at the University of Kiel, Germany. From 1999-2001, he worked as a research scholar at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA, where he performed collection-based research on the relationship between the morphology, ecology, and evolution of the mouthparts of fungal- spore-feeding staphylonoid beetles. Since 2004, Oliver has been a full professor of Evolutionary Biology of Invertebrates at the Biology Department at the University of Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. His research focuses on the functional and ecological morphology of insects, taking into account the integration of morphology and ecology to improve the understanding of the function of morphological structures in their ecological (environment) and evolutionary (history) context. Through his participation in interdisciplinary research projects (e.g., the collaborative research council "Biological design and integrative structures - analysis, simulation and implementation in architecture" (https://www.trr141.de/)), his team has also been involved in biomimetic projects on insect attachment systems and joint-free movement principles. Methodologically, his group uses light and (scanning and transmission) electron mircoscopy, synchrotron microtomography and synchrotron-based X-ray cineradiography, 3D reconstruction, force measurements with force transducers and nanotribometers, highspeed videography in the context of kinematic analyses, behavioral observations, phylogenetic systematics, and ecological field and laboratory experiments.

More on Oliver Betz' work can be found here



Néva Meyer

Department of Biology, Clark University, Worcester, USA

Néva Meyer is an Associate Professor in the Biology Department at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. Néva earned a Ph.D. from the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, USA in 2005 for her work examining how different types of neurons are patterned along the dorsal-ventral axis of the chick and mouse spinal cord. As a result of her graduate studies, Néva became interested in the broader question of how nervous systems evolved. She began to address this question as a postdoctoral researcher studying annelid development in Dr. Elaine Seaver's lab at Kewalo Marine Lab, University of Hawaii in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. She started her lab at Clark University in 2011 where her research continues to address questions of annelid and spiralian development with the goal of gaining a better understanding of how animal body plans evolved and diversified.

More on Néva Meyer’s work can be found here.



Rich Mooi

California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, USA

Rich Mooi studies the origin and evolution of echinoderms—a group that includes sea urchins and starfish. Rich acquired B.Sc. (1981), M.Sc. (1983), and Ph.D. (1987) degrees from the University of Toronto, then spent 2 years as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, after which he joined the research staff at the California Academy of Sciences (1990).  His research can be summarized as the study of the origins of evolutionary novelty, for which the Echinodermata constitutes an excellent model system. Rich studies the systematics, phylogeny, paleontology, and biogeography of echinoderms, particularly sea urchins and sand dollars.  He has published on origins of radial symmetry in ancient echinoderms, sea urchin diversity, sources of deep-sea faunas, and how creatures as bizarre as echinoderms evolved from worm-like forms half a billion years ago.  His field work has included submersible dives off the Bahamas, paleontology in Alaska, and shallow- and deep-water expeditions in Antarctica, Palau, Zanzibar, Easter Island, and particularly in the Philippines. Rich strongly believes in public dissemination of findings in biodiversity science and sustainability. To this end, he administered the Academy's undergraduate research and biological illustration internships for over 20 years, and helped create content, scripts, and illustrations for unique online biodiversity videos using the Khan Academy platform.
Rich is an Associate Editor for the Journal of Paleontology.

More on Rich Mooi ’s work can be found here.

Pavel Tomancak

Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), Dresden, Germany

Pavel Tomancak studied Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. He then did his PhD at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in the field of Drosophila developmental genetics. During his post-doctoral time at the University of California in Berkeley at the laboratory of Gerald M. Rubin, he established image-based genome scale resources for patterns of gene expression in Drosophila embryos. Since 2005 he leads an independent research group at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden where he became senior research group leader in 2013. His laboratory continues to study patterns of gene expression during development by combining molecular, imaging and image analysis techniques. The group has lead a significant technological development aiming towards more complete quantitative description of gene expression patterns using light sheet microscopy. The emphasis on open access resulted in establishment of major resources such as OpenSPIM (openspim.org) and Fiji (fiji.sc). The Tomancak lab is expanding the systematic analysis of gene expression patterns to other Drosophila tissues and employing the comparative approach in other Drosophilids and invertebrate species.

More on Pavel Tomancak's work can be found here.

Christina Zakas

North Carolina State University,
Raleigh, USA

Phenotypic evolution in animals is constrained by the mechanics of early development. Macroevolutionary changes are initially shaped by developmental constraints, where simple trade-offs can ultimately result in a vast spectrum of physiological, morphological, and ecological differences. How do these major transitions in development mode occur and what are their evolutionary consequences? I research the mechanisms that allow for drastic shifts in development and the evolutionary factors responsible for determining life-history strategy. 

A major goal of my research is characterizing the extent and distribution of genetic variation that contributes to early development. I have established the marine polychaete model Streblospio benedicti as a genetically tractable species to dissect the transition from indirect to direct development. In my work I integrate aspects of population genetics, quantitative genetics, and developmental biology within a single species to identify how genomic variation influences life-history. By investigating trade-offs within a species, I address major evolutionary questions: I investigate how population divergence can occur with geneflow, and how population and developmental genetics interact to shape major evolutionary transitions.

S. benedicti provides a unique opportunity to use forward genetics to experimentally dissect a major transition in animal development. The particularly intriguing feature of this system is that it can produce two divergent offspring types; females produce either hundreds of small feeding larvae with a long development time, or tens of large non-feeding larvae that develop quickly. The two distinct offspring types differ in egg size, ontogeny, and larval ecology. Using quantitative genetic approaches in this system I investigate the fundamental role of maternal genetic effects in shaping evolutionary transitions in development.

More on Christina Zakas’ work can be found here.