Nichole Bennett is a Ph.D. candidate and National Science Graduate Research Fellow in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at The University of Texas at Austin, where she studies climate change impacts by investigating local adaptation and thermal biology in a butterfly-plant system. She will be working with the Mikheyev Unit for six months to look at genome-wide patterns of host-associated differentiation in two species of butterflies (Euphydryas editha and E. aurinia).
Populations of the butterfly E. editha exhibit spatial variation in diet, and populations differ in a suite of highly heritable, complex traits. A related species, E. aurinia also demonstrates a geographic mosaic of host plant use but much smaller differences in its adaptations to different plant species. A previous study (Mikheyev et al. 2013) used AFLP and microsatellite markers to search for host-associated genomic differences in the two species. Somewhat paradoxically, the butterfly with weaker phenotypic differences (E. aurinia) had stronger differentiation than the butterfly with stronger differences in adaptation (E. editha). Nichole’s work at OIST with Dr. Mikheyev will follow up on this work by using higher-resolution next generation sequencing methods to look for differences in the two species in the level of host-associated differentiation.
In addition to her research interests, Nichole is also involved in science education and communication. During fall semesters, she organizes a weekly informal Introduction to Biological Statistics Course. She also hosts a weekly science radio show They Blinded Me With Science on 91.7FM KVRX Austin and coordinates Science Under the Stars, a free, outdoor lecture series that helps graduate students communicate their research to the public.