Faculty & Staff

Marcel van Tuinen, Associate Professor

photoPh.D., Penn State University, 2000
M.S., Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands, 1997
Friday Hall 1051 | (910) 962-2178 | 601 South College Road, Wilmington, NC, 28403-5915 vantuinenm@uncw.edu             

Overview: our lab uses genetic and genomic techniques to address several evolutionary and ecological questions pertaining to life in aquatic and terrestrial environments. Our research falls into three broad categories: (1) using phylogenomic techniques in bird systematics; (2) using phylogeographic and ancient DNA techniques in population genetics of birds and mammals; and (3) using a combination of fossil and genetic data in reconstructing the evolutionary timescale of vertebrates.

Bird systematics: using nuclear and mitochondrial loci we have confirmed that, at least for birds, the aquatic environment imposes unique morphological and ecological constraints. Distinct lineages such as seabirds, shorebirds, wading birds, diving birds and raptors are intricately related, and provide several amazing examples of convergent and divergent evolution. To advance genomic approaches needed to resolve the origins of several intractable evolutionary radiations among these birds, we have started collaborations to test the phylogenetic utility of novel nuclear markers. Ongoing projects focus both on DNA sequencing of multiple nuclear markers and documentation of unique transposon element insertions into the avian genome. We are particularly interested in providing a first DNA-based taxonomy of the living (and extinct) species of grebes (Podicipedidae), and would like to ascertain how many times birds have returned to the aquatic realm during their evolutionary history.

Representative pubs:

Kaiser, V. B., van Tuinen, M., and H. Ellegren. Insertion Events of CR1 Retrotransposable Elements Elucidate the Phylogenetic Branching Order in Galliform Birds. Molecular Biology and Evolution 24: 338-347 (2007).

Van Tuinen, M., Butvill, D. B., Kirsch, J. A. W., and S. B. Hedges.  Convergence and Divergence in the Evolution of Aquatic Birds, Proc. Royal Society, London 268:1474, 1345-1350 (2001).

Van Tuinen, M., Sibley, C.G., and S. B. Hedges.  The Early History of Modern Birds inferred from DNA Sequences of Nuclear and Mitochondrial Ribosomal Genes, Molecular Biology and Evolution 17:3, 451-457 (2000).

Ancient DNA: in our “second” lab at CMS we directly sample the past with ancient DNA techniques to ascertain historic genetic information. This unique insight has been applied to describe the closest living relatives of extinct animals. However, we also are actively interested in applying ancient DNA data to document the temporal population dynamics of representative bird and mammal species. Ongoing and available projects include ascertaining the levels of historic genetic variation in marine mammals and birds, and comparing modern genetic structure of small mammals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as inferred from museum skins and paleontological cave material.

Representative pubs:

Van Tuinen, M., Ramakrishnan, U., and E. A. Hadly. Investigating the Effect of Environmental Change on Biotic Evolution: Genetic Contributions, Current Work and Future Developments, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London: Physical, Mathematical and Engineering Sciences 362: 2795-2820 (2004).

Hadly, E. A., Ramakrishnan, U., Chan, Y., Van Tuinen, M., O’Keefe, K., Spaeth, P. A., and C. J. Conroy. Variable Genetic Response to Past Climate Change: Insights from ancient DNA, PloS Biology 2:10, 1-10 (2004).

Hadly, E. A., Van Tuinen, M., Chan, Y., and Heiman, K.  Ancient DNA Evidence of Prolonged Population Persistence with negligible Genetic Diversity in an endemic Tuco-tuco (Ctenomys sociabilis), Journal of Mammalogy 84:2, 403-417 (2003).

Timetree construction: to understand whether the environment influences lineage diversification over millions of years, a timescale for major phylogenetic events is required. We are developing several projects that compare the evolutionary timescale across bird lineages and between birds and mammals as they crossed multiple major climate perturbations during the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. Our work takes a multi-marker approach and involves testing the sensitivity of divergence time estimation to choice of gene, species, fossil calibrations and analytical methods.

Representative pubs:

Van Tuinen, M., Stidham, T. A., and E. A. Hadly.  Tempo and Mode of Modern Bird Evolution observed with large-scale Taxonomic Sampling, Historical Biology 18: 205-221 (2006).

Hedges, S. B., Kumar, S., and M. Van Tuinen. Constraining Fossil Calibration for Molecular Clocks, Bioessays 28: 770-771 (2006).

Van Tuinen, M., and E. A. Hadly. Calibration and Error in Placental Molecular Clocks: a conservative Approach using the Cetartiodactyl Fossil Record, Journal of Heredity 95, 200-208 (2004).

Van Tuinen, M., and G. J. Dyke. Calibration of Galliform Molecular Clocks using multiple Fossils and Genetic Partitions, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 30:1, 74-86 (2004).

Dyke, G. J., and M. Van Tuinen. The Evolutionary Radiation of Modern Birds (Neornithes): reconciling Molecules, Morphology and the Fossil Record. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 141, 153-178 (2004).

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