Bio: Kathryn R. Elmer (PI)


Dr. Kathryn R. Elmer (PI)

My  research aims to understand how biodiversity adapts to environmental challenges. These challenges may be anthropogenic or natural, for example to changing ecological conditions,  geographic areas, or climates. What environmental conditions promote biodiversity and evolutionary potential, and by what underlying molecular mechanisms do adaptation and divergence occurs?

When faced with such challenges, the speed and extent to which lineages adapt and diversify clearly differs across the Tree of Life, and I aim to identify the causes of those differences. To accomplish this I integrate genomic, bioinformatic, evolutionary and ecological approaches, particularly focusing on recent radiations of freshwater fishes, amphibians, and reptiles ('ichs and herps'). Such closely related taxa in replicate radiations represent phylogenetically-controlled ‘speciation in action’, from the initial stages of population divergence through to behavioural and genetic isolation. Further, these species harbour exceptionally rich diversity and have high economic and conservation value. This research has central relevance to myriad challenges that biodiversity faces in contemporary changing environments.

My research program is built upon two major hierarchies of questions:
1. How does natural selection act on the genomic and phenotypic variability of populations to promote speciation? How and when can we discern selective from non-selective factors in evolution?
2. What is the role of genetic variation and genome architecture in the potential for adaptation and speciation? Is there concordance between phenotypic and genetic responses to natural selection?

These lines of inquiry contribute to my over-arching research hypothesis, which is that genomic architecture, or the organization of variability, determines a lineage’s potential to diversify.

Here is a link to my Uni homepage, with current projects and interests, research funding, and publications.

Recent Awards and Honours
Royal Society of Edinburgh's Young Academy of Scotland (2016-2021)
Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2016-)
Fisheries Society of the British Isles Medal for research achievement (2015)
Scottish Crucible (2014 entry)


About me
Biodiversity adaptation and conservation has been a life-long passion of mine. When I was in school I worked with native rights organizations on land claims and habitat protection in Canada, giving my first speech to a large rally on the steps of parliament when I was just 12 years old. In my undergraduate I studied evolution and ecology (zoology) and environmental studies, while working summers and part time for the Adaptations and Impacts Research Group of Environment Canada, with the aim of shaping biodiversity policy on climate change. My research career then focused more on the importance of genetic diversity in evolution and adaptation and how environments shape biodiversity patterns.

PI and Senior Lecturer - Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine Univ. of Glasgow, Scotland UK
Excellenzinitiative Women in Science award and Assistant Professor (Konstanz, Germany) 2011-12
NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow (held at Konstanz, Germany) 2009-11
Genomics Centre Manager (Konstanz, Germany; part-time acting) 2009-11
Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow (held at Konstanz, Germany) 2007-09
PhD, Queen's University (Kingston, Canada) 2006
Honours BA, University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada) 2000 in Zoology, Environmental Studies, and Philosophy