Epigenetics and evolution

Variation in gene expression can mediate plasticity and adaptation in the absence of variation in coding DNA, and a major source of gene expression regulation is epigenetic modification. However, the importance of environmentally triggered epigenetic modifications in adaptation is uncertain according to current theory, and lacks strong empirical support, especially in animals.

Our overall goal is to an understanding of evolutionary mechanisms and processes involved in phenotypic divergence and adaptation to local conditions. We can advance our conceptual understanding of the role of epigenetic variation in adaptive evolution and plasticity with experimental and theoretical tests of critical questions.

(1) Is epigenetic and expression variation associated with adaptive phenotypic variation

(2) Is epigenetic variation transgenerationally inherited

(3) What is the relative contribution of genetic and epigenetic variation to phenotypic divergence?

We strive to advance our conceptual understanding in this research area with a combined empirical and theoretical approach.


*Smithson, M. W., Dybdahl, M. F., & Nuismer, S. L. (2019). The adaptive value of epigenetic mutation: Limited in large but high in small peripheral populations. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1111/jeb.135

*Madrid-Thorson, J. , *M. Smithson, and four others M.F. Dybdahl, and M. Skinner. (2019). Regional Epigenetic Variation in Asexual Snail Populations among Urban and Rural Lakes. Environmental Epigenetics , 5(4) dvz02

*Thorson, J. L., Smithson, M., Beck, D., Sadler-Riggleman, I., Nilsson, E., Dybdahl, M., & Skinner, M. K. 2017. Epigenetics and adaptive phenotypic variation between habitats in an asexual snail. Scientific Reports7(1), 14139.