Small but rising… this is us:

Current lab members

hanna_800_600Hanna Kokko   email_link_25_18

I am a Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Zurich. I have a longstanding interest in the mathematical logic that underpins biology, with a particular curiosity towards the evolution of reproductive strategies. I find everything captivating as soon as it involves conflict and possible cooperation between entities (individuals, genes, parts of society…) and this then leads to demographic consequences within or across species. I recently tried to draw a chart of all these thoughts — you can admire it here.

nina_200_167Nina Gerber   email_link_25_18

I finished my MSc on the transmission of olfactory information in a cooperative dilemma in rats. For my PhD I switched from an exclusively empirical project to a more theoretical framework. Facultative sex (cyclical parthenogenesis) seems to be a superior solution to the question of having sex or not, and the obvious question arises: why did it evolve relatively rarely? In my PhD project my aim is to find explanations for the presence, absence and consequences of facultative sex by investigating the conditions that favour its evolution. Daphnia evolved cyclical parthenogenesis and the female’s investment in reproduction with different sex ratios can be easily observed in the field. Thus Daphnia seems to be an ideal system to study our research questions and combine empirical evidences with theoretical models.


Anaïs_200_150Anaïs Tilquin   email_link_25_18

Wizened beyond my years by a stellar 10-month career in fish-porn between Leiden (Netherlands), and Tvärminne (Finland), 2013, I’ve now opened a new chapter in my professional life devoted to the sagacious question: “After all: if you can avoid it, why mate at all ?”. After pondering on the case of haplodiploids and trying my hand at mathematical modelling at the INRA (Antibes, France) for my MSc thesis, 2015, I’ve now joined the Kokkonuts as a PhD student. So far it is still unknown whether I’ll join the efforts on the cyclical parthenogenesis front, or focus on the origins of sexual reproduction.

xiangyi_200_267Xiang-Yi Li   email_link_25_18

I did my PhD at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany, where I studied evolutionary game theory with Arne Traulsen. I tried my hands on integrating life history theory into evolutionary game models, and applying evolutionary game theory to explain bacterial population dynamics. Since March 1st, 2016 I arrived at the new habitat of Kokkonuts and took up a new challenge in to study one of the most fascinating and also complicated topics in evolutionary biology – Sex. Now I’m familiarizing myself with the vast literature on this topic, and trying to find my niche at the interface between dispersal, local adaptation and the evolution of sex-dimorphism.



Joshua Christie email_link_25_18

After briefly trying—and failing—to make it as an empiricist during my PhD, I thought it best to study biology without the messy complications of actual biology. So, during my PhD at The University of Sydney, I switched to theoretical work. There I examined the evolution and consequences of uniparental (maternal) inheritance of mitochondria. In Zurich, I will work on the evolution of sex, mating types, and some of the theory behind multilevel selection..


Yagmur Erten email_link_25_18

I am interested in using mathematical and computational models to study evolutionary questions. I did my MSc as part of MEME (Erasmus Mundus Master Programme in Evolutionary Biology), during which I worked in two different directions: cultural evolution and evolutionary epidemiology. After a brief adventure at the University of Sydney involving information theory, I started my PhD as a Kokkonut at the University of Zurich. I am now working at the intersection of ecology, evolution and cancer, asking how cancer risk can act as a factor in life history evolution.


Matthias Galipaud email_link_25_18

Why do I age ? After a PhD in Dijon (France) spent observing and modelling the sexual behaviour of small amphipods, a short time at the university of Bristol (UK) modelling optimal divorce rates in animals with long lasting partnerships, some unemployment time, a postdoc at the university of Bielefeld (Germany) studying the evolution of extended windows of plasticity in guinea pigs social behaviour, it is finally time to learn something about myself ! During my two years postdoc with the kokkonuts, I will try to understand why patterns of ageing evolve to be so diverse among and within species. How come humans age when hydras don’t ? Why do males senesce earlier than females in many species ? These are the questions I will try to answer before my brain accumulates too much damage (if it is not already too late) !


Antonia Ettwein email_link_25_18

Mainly working at the Swiss Ornithological Institute, I joined the Kokkonuts as an external PhD student. I am a wildlife ecologist with a particular interest in conservation biology, animal movement ecology and resource selection by animals. In my PhD I aim to find out how to reconcile the demands of forest habitat specialists with forest management. Enjoying the challenges of field work, I am working with the white-backed woodpecker, a rare and endangered species typically inhabiting primeval forests, in the Swiss and Austrian Alps.


Runa Ekrem email_link_25_18

I did my MSc on genetic correlation between flower size and seed size (Norway), where I discussed functional integration and canalisation of seed size. For my PhD with the Kokkonuts I will study maintenance of local adaptation to intertidal environment in the midge Clunio marinus. I am interested in both theoretical and empirical studies and the project will be shaped thereafter. For the time being I am still learning about the topic in order to find my path for the project.


Hanna ten Brink email_link_25_18

During my PhD at the University of Amsterdam, I studied the evolution of complex life cycles. With the use of mathematical models, I investigated under which ecological conditions metamorphosis can evolve and why this life-history strategy is so common in the animal kingdom. I have not made up my mind yet about my research topic here in Zurich. I will either work on a related topic and study why some insects lost their wings or I will switch to a new topic and work on the interaction between phenology and bet-hedging strategies in plants.


Former lab members

Daisuke Kyogoku email_link_25_18

I am a JSPS postdoc (home institution: Ryukoku University, Japan) visiting Kokkonuts for three months. I am interested in the causes and consequences of the fitness impact of heterospecific mating interactions, with strong emphasis on how such interactions affect the structure of biological communities. During my PhD at Kyoto University, I examined if sexually selected harmful male traits, such as genital spines, affect the fitness cost of heterospecific mating using seed beetles. In my current postdoc project, I am studying how heterospecific mating interactions drive evolutionary dynamics, switching study organisms to dandelions. Here in Kokkonuts, once again I change the study organism to butterflies in silico, and work on simulation models of reinforcement and reproductive character displacement. For more information, please visit my website.

Sascha Ismail email_link_25_18

All my research in plant conservation genetics at ETH Zurich (PhD), at the Botanical Garden in Berlin and at the University of Aberdeen is related to the question how small populations can maintain sufficient reproduction. Through my investigations on inbreeding, genetic diversity and dispersal, I became interested in the more fundamental eco-evolutionary consequences of mating among close relatives (and thereby overcoming the predominant conservation genetic focus on potential harmful effects of inbreeding). During my short term Postdoc with the Kokkonuts, I pursue this topic by investigating whether positive assortative mating is a common phenomenon in plants.



Isobel Booksmythe email_link_25_18

I did my PhD at the Australian National University with Pat Backwell and Michael Jennions, where I studied cooperative and competitive territorial interactions as well as mating behaviours in fiddler crabs. I did a short stint in the Jennions lab measuring the effects of selection for genital size on fitness traits in mosquitofish, then moved to Uppsala University (Sweden) to work with Göran Arnqvist studying chemical courtship signalling and mating system evolution in sex role reversed seed beetles. Since December 2014 I’ve been at the University of Zürich; as a Kokkonut I’ll change study species once again and look at mating behaviour in facultatively sexual Daphnia… For more on my work, visit my website.


george_200_267George Constable email_link_25_18

Demographic noise is the inherent population level randomness that results when the birth and death of individuals within a population is probabilistic. My work broadly concerns how this noise can affect the expected dynamics of a population, which can include fascinating and counter-intuitive behaviours such as noise-induced selection reversal. My PhD was obtained in statistical physics (University of Manchester, 2014), after which I spent two years working as a postdoc in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department at Princeton University. While there I investigated biologically motivated models of public good dynamics. Now working with the Kokkonuts at UZH, I am engaged in research on models of intragenomic conflict and the evolution of multicellularity.


Arunas Radzvilavicius email_link_25_18

Trained as a theoretical physicist and an evolutionary theorist at UCL, I am interested in universal mechanisms governing the evolution of biological complexity: from the origin of life and complex cells, to collective identity in human societies. The concept of biological evolution as a series of “transitions in individuality”—involving conflict, cooperation and mechanisms of quality control—provides a very attractive framework for understanding these problems. My most recent work focused on an ancient enigmatic cooperation between bacteria and archaea that gave rise to all eukaryotic cells with mitochondria, and is largely responsible for a whole range of peculiar things that complex organisms do, like sex, sexual conflict, aging and death. To stay up to date with my work and my less academic essays, you can follow me on Twitter.


susanne_200_250Susanne Schindler email_link_25_18

Wouldn’t it be cool to grow as you like? This is just what fish and some mammals do! They adjust their body growth to the social situation they find themselves in. A fearful clownfish that wants to avoid upsetting a bigger clownfish and collecting subsequent beating just stays small. An ambitious meerkat who senses her closest subordinate catching up in body size and thus potentially outranking her invests into a growth spurt. Everything comes at a cost, though. Being beating causes physical injuries, to beat someone or to grow faster uses up energy, and remaining small and low in rank might result in less offspring. My aim as a Kokkonut is to find out which growth strategy evolves under which cost–benefit scenario. I will do that with super cool pen-and-paper models and computer simulations. So, no self-experiment, I will remain my size.


nadiah_200_240Nadiah Kristensen email_link_25_18

I am a Postdoctoral Fellow at National University of Singapore (Ryan Chisholm’s lab) visiting the Kokko lab for three months. I am interested in ecoevolutionary models, adaptive dynamics, and food web models. Recently I have worked on models for evolution of eusociality in termites (at National University of Singapore), adaptation of migratory bird phenology in response to climate change (at Lund University), and created new methods for qualitative modelling (which is a tool for predicting ecosystem response to pest control when data on interaction strengths between species is missing, at University of Queensland). For more on my work please visit my website


Martina Schenkel email_link_25_18Martina_200_267

I completed my studies in ecology at the University of Zurich, in collaboration with karch Neuchâtel (the Swiss amphibian and reptile association), in 2013. For my master thesis I investigated the amphibian pathogen B. dendrobatidis in water frogs and alpine newts, where I was interested in finding out, what habitat traits influence parasite loads and occurrence, with special focus on pond hydroperiod. After a very interesting year of field work with great tits and white-throated dippers at the IEU I joined Hanna’s lab in Dec 2014. We still did not really find a definition of my function here, but in the first row I will be involved in the planning and organization of teaching.

andri_200_260Andri Manser

Biological organisms are collective entities. Their survival and reproduction depends on a most elaborate collaboration among thousands of genes that contain them. Yet, the subordination of genes to a common purpose cannot be taken for granted. I am interested in outlaw genes (termed drive genes) that subvert the collective interest in pursuit of their own replication, thereby provoking fascinating evolutionary conflicts inside the organism. I try to understand some of the ecological and evolutionary consequences of such conflicts using a combination of theory and data. At the moment, I am about to finish my PhD on a well-known drive gene in house mice (with the help of Anna Lindholm and Barbara König). As a Kokkonut, I try to think about some broader implications of mine and other people’s theoretical results for sexual selection research.


noëlle_200_180Noëlle Ahr

I have always been curious about animal behaviours and specially how they interact. As I haven’t received my answers in normal classes, I have left my cocoon to see for myself. After one master in animal behaviour in Strasbourg, looking for the leadership enigma in an empirical way, I passed a complementary master in modelling, recreating a theoretical parental care evolution. I may now be ready for… spicier topics. Indeed, I have joined the Kokkonuts to engage in a “one shade of grey project”. One aim is to model when would males leave females in peace, when we look at the evolution of sexual conflict. In all friendship of course.


joan_200_250Joan Maspons

I’m doing my PhD about causes and consequences of life history variation with Dr. Daniel Sol. After finding a pattern in birds, where species with low brood value are better invaders, we couldn’t quantify the importance of the multiple possible mechanisms. Different strategies with the same brood value, bet-hedging, demographic features of life histories, cognitive abilities… all related but too complex for my brain, which started to overheat. I started to develop theoretical models to understand the magnitude of the different mechanisms and their interactions. After a couple of prototypes I decided to visit Hanna’s lab to learn and share ideas with seasoned theoretical modelers. A random picture of me working has a high chance to be about a guy in front of a screen with funny R scripts, but I also like real nature without tabulations.


Masahito Morita

I am a three-month (Dec 2014 – Mar 2015) visiting student from SOKENDAI in Japan. My PhD study (supervised by Mariko Hiraiwa-Hasegawa and Hisashi Ohtsuki) examines fertility decline in humans with evolutionary perspectives. Some current topics are: factors affecting the number of children, factors affecting the probability of childbirth, sexual conflict between mother and father in reproductive decision-making, and so on. I mainly conduct analyses of statistical data and questionnaire surveys designed by myself. Also, I am very interested in mathematical modelling for clarifying highly complex human behaviour. If you are interested in my studies, please visit my personal website for more details.

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