Mads Schou

Mads Schou

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I apply theory on genotype by environmental stress interactions to test and explain a range of evolutionary phenomena. The central theme is how the remarkable diversity (or equally remarkable similarity) among individuals in a species evolves.

Cooperation and stress in South African ostriches

My current focus is on how cooperation among individuals evolves to overcome individual limitations in coping with stressful environments.
Together with Charlie Cornwallis (Lund University) I am in the process of establishing a new (especially new to me!) study system, which we will use to test:

Does cooperation and the transition to sociality allow individuals to inhabit stressful environments when individual stress tolerance is limited?

Ostrich (Struthio camelus) individuals breed in both pairs and in groups, but we don’t know what triggers this cooperation and how it evolved. We will study the ostrich at a field site in South Africa, where we can monitor a high number of ostriches and experimentally manipulate their group structure. For these reasons we think it is a perfect model organism for understanding why some animals cooperate while others do not.

My interest in this question was sparked by my involvement on how the transition to sociality in a spider species group (Stegodyphus) completely changed their genetic make-up. This is an ongoing collaboration with Trine Bilde (Aarhus University).

Evolution of environmental sensitivity

Textbooks tell us that the variation we observe among individuals can be split into the genetic variance and the environmental variance. We tend to discard the environmental variance and focus on genetic variance as it is thought to lead to directional predictable change across generations. But what about the environmental variance:

  • Do some traits have a higher environmental variance than others and if so why?
  • Is there selection on the sensitivity to environmental variance and if so how does it evolve?

These are some of the questions I try to answer to improve our understanding of how the environment shapes the variation among individuals. The work takes advantage of the high precision estimates and known historical selection in domestic cattle and is performed in collaboration with Torsten N. Kristensen (Aalborg University) and Ary Hoffmann (Melbourne University).



Evolutionary genetics and environmental stress

My work during my PhD and my initial post-graduate environment evolved around the questions

  • Does environmental stress and selection influence the loss of genetic diversity in small populations?
  • What are the mechanisms behind the inbreeding by stress interaction commonly observed in small populations?
  • How do ectotherms adapt to abiotic (e.g. thermal) stressors?

This work involved fruit flies (Drosophila) as a model organism, and I used a range of different techniques such as Pool-Seq, proteomics, transcriptomics, metabolomics but also field experiments and physiological tests.
I am still involved in several projects on adaptation to environmental stress through collaborations with Volker Loeschcke and Jesper G. Sørensen (Aarhus University) as well as Vanessa Kellermann (Monash University).


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