Prof. SNSF Yvonne Willi

Research interest

Evolutionary Ecology

Diversity of life has been shaped by natural selection and adaptive evolution. The process of adaptive evolution depends on how much heritable genetic variation there is for the traits that are exposed to selection. A strong emphasis of my research has been the role of population size in determining genetic variation for ecologically relevant traits and the response to selection. We have found that, indeed, small populations have reduced genetic variation for ecologically relevant traits compared to large populations and, importantly, that low genetic variation is only one of several factors why small populations have reduced potential to adapt to a changing environment. We currently study how genetic interdependencies between traits limit adaptation, and the role of environmental stress in adaptive evolution. Current investigations focus on Arabidopsis lyrata, a species that naturally occurs in North America and is a close relative of the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana. Our work has a strong experimental component, but we also look at patterns of genetic variation and adaptation in natural populations.

.    Population genetics, quantitative genetics
.    Adaptation under environmental change
.    Adaptation to ecological gradients
.    Conservation biology, small populations
.    Plant mating system evolution

.    Evolution of plant life history traits: flowering time and stress resistance; trade offs and genetic correlations (Guillaume Wos) .

.    The genomic underpinning of climate adaptation (Marco Fracassetti).

.    Conservation - fate of small populations under environmental change: Small and fragmented populations have several potential handicaps in responding to selection. I am interested in quantifying effect of demography, genetic variation, and marginal environmental conditions on tracking a moving trait optimum.

.    Evolution of mating system and selfish genetic elements in Arabidopsis lyrata: Studies of plant mating systems have long focused on the evolutionary advantages and disadvantages of inbreeding and outbreeding. The project reverses the chain of causation to ask how the mating system affects the genetic architecture of ecologically relevant traits (
Olivier Bachmann).

Selected publications

1.    Willi, Y. 2013. The battle of the sexes over seed size: support for both kinship genomic imprinting and interlocus contest evolution. American Naturalist 181, 787-798.

2.    Willi, Y. 2013. Mutational meltdown in selfing Arabidopsis lyrata. Evolution 67, 806-815.

3.    Hoffmann, A.A. & Willi, Y. 2008. Detecting genetic responses to environmental change. Nature Reviews Genetics 9, 421-432.

4.    Willi, Y., Van Buskirk, J. & Hoffmann, A.A. 2006. Evolutionary potential of small populations. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 37, 433-458.



Institute of Biology
University of Neuchâtel
Rue Emile-Argand 11
CH-2000 Neuchâtel
Tel : ++41 32 718 23 61
Fax : ++41 32 718 30 01
e-mail: Yvonne.Willi@unine.ch