Public lecture: What can we learn from pipefish: from sexual selection to climate change (and back again)



The ISE is organising a public lecture titled " What can we learn from pipefish: from sexual selection to climate change (and back again)" on 16th April


About the talk

The lecture will discuss the Syngnathids form a truly unique family of teleost fish that encompasses pipefishes, seadragons and the iconic seahorses. Apart from obvious genetical, morphological and behavioural similarities, all syngnathids share an unique character that sets them aside from all other taxa, aquatic or terrestrial: male pregnancy. During development, the male’s brood pouch not only provides the embryos with protection and osmoregulation, but it also allows for the exchange of nutrients between parent and offspring, as well as trans-generational immune priming. The syngnathid brood pouch can thus be viewed as a structure analogous to the mammalian uterus and the intimate relationship formed between father and offspring sets the stage for selection to operate. Some of his most recent findings which led to the discovery of a new post-copulatory sexual selection mechanism (the “Woman in Red” effect) where pregnant pipefish males, at the sight of a sexier female, can curb ongoing pregnancies, will be presented in the lecture.

Apart from male pregnancy, some syngnathid species also display sex-role reversal (i.e., females actively compete for male access while males tend to be the choosier sex). This uncommon characteristic has converted sex-role reversed pipefish into extensively used mirror-like model species to address questions related with sexual selection. I will present some of our own results with pipefish, from showing how sex roles are not fixed and can be quickly adjusted according to social surroundings, to depicting the dynamic nature of sexual selection, whose intensity is prone to fluctuate both seasonally and spatially. I will also show how we discovered, in the worm pipefish, an inverted lek mating system, the first ever described in the aquatic environment.

Even though sexual selection is an extremely active research area, its precise impact on adaptation to anthropogenic change remains unresolved, with conflicting evidence emerging from the very few existing studies. Thus, I will also talk about our own approach to understand the role of sexual selection in evolutionary responses to environmental perturbation, namely by using genomics to definitively address the impact in adaptation to climate change (patterns of mating, sexual traits expression, phenotypic condition, genetic variance and, ultimately, survival of local populations).

About the speaker

Nuno Monteiro is currently a researcher at CIBIO/InBIO, a professor at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University Fernando Pessoa, and an invited professor at the Faculty of Sciences, University of Porto. He completed his degree in Biology in 1996, followed by a MSc in Applied Ecology (2000) and a PhD (GABBA Program) in Biology (2005). His research focuses mainly in questions related with behaviour and evolution, and he has a special interest in all subjects dealing with sexual selection. His extensive work with syngnathids (a fish family that comprises seahorses, pipefish and seadragons) stems from the interest in understanding the selective processes operating during and/or after sexual reproduction. Due to his large body of published work, mainly on pipefish, he is now a IUCN specialist for the SPS group. Some of his ongoing research include projects dealing with the conservation genomics of endangered syngnathid species and the understanding of the impact of sexual selection in adaptation, under a climate change scenario.