In modern biology there are two alternative experimental approaches for the study of different phenomena, which impact the evolution of living being – laboratory evolution and investigations in the wild.

LABORATORY EVOLUTION

Laboratory evolution allows the study of populations across multiple generations under strictly defined and reproducible conditions, but without the direct choice of reproducing individuals by the experimenter, in contrast to natural populations, where environmental conditions can be an efficient evolutionary factor that produces adaptations.

By employing "laboratory natural selection" as a tool to investigate determinants of life-history evolution, four types of laboratory populations of the seed beetle, Acanthoscelides obtectus, have been established (each type was replicated four times and observed over 200 generations): populations selected at high (K) and low (r) larval densities (density-dependent selection), and populations in which selection was imposed on either early (E) or late (L) reproduction (age-specific selection). Using these populations, the future investigations will focus on the following topics: 1. The evolutionary outcomes of density-dependent and age–specific selection, 2. The quantitative-genetic basis of the life-history traits that respond to these two selection types, 3. The evolution of ageing and late life, 4. The evolution of pre-zygotic and post-zygotic reproductive isolation between populations within each selection regime.

The amphibians and reptiles of the Balkan Peninsula included in the scope of the proposed research represent a "natural laboratory" and excellent model-system for both evolutionary and conservation studies. These vertebrates are characterised by low dispersal abilities and mostly strict ecological requirements, resulting in high evolutionary differentiation and intraspecific variation in their morphology, genetics, life history and ecology. The specificity of the Balkans with its complex paleogeographic history, heterogeneous landscapes, topographic diversity and climatic variation, resulted in a complex picture of amphibian and reptile diversity. Moreover, the Balkans are the origin of numerous taxa, an area of high endemicity, high rate of allopatric and parapatric speciation, and numerous hybridization zones. By combining data from natural populations and experimental studies, we propose to examine the following issues in evolutionary biology: (1) the evolution of complex morphological entities, (2) the evolution of life-history traits, (3) phylogeographic patterns of evolutionary lineages, and (4) the relation between eco-geographical and environmental variables as a function of the distribution of species, phylogenetic lineages and hybrid zones. Conservation research studies will be related to the recognition of evolutionary significant units, and to population ecology studies as a basis for further conservation strategies of autochthonous populations and species.

The aim of the project is to assess the influence of heterogenity of abiotic and biotic environment at molecular, citological and morphological on variability, as well as variability of life history traits and behaviour, population structure and evolution processes (genetic specialisation, phenotype plasticity, speciation) of different organisms (vertebrates, invertebrates and plants). Achieved results will enable assessment of appropriate indicators of environmental devastation and will be included in phylogeographic analyses and ecological status evaluation of the ecosystems in region and Europe.

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