Sara Simmonds, an assistant research professor in the Department of Biology, recently published research pertaining to her University of California Los Angeles-based work with coral snails.
“This particular publication was looking at how interactions between species can be a force to drive speciation (the formation of new species). Classical evolutionary theory says you need to have some sort of physical barrier, like a mountain range or stream or river in order to separate a species and those two groups can evolve differently,” said Simmonds.
“But in the ocean, it’s very fluid, there can be a lot of gene flow and movement. So how do you get speciation happening in the ocean?”
In her research, Simmonds and her colleagues dove into the Coral Triangle to study a species of sea snail living on coral reefs. By sequencing the snails’ genome and mapping their coral habitats, she discovered that speciation could occur just across two different types of coral, and not because of any large physical divide.
“Sea snails are special because they live on the coral their whole life, so they have to be very adapted to that particular coral,” she said. “So that’s what this paper was about – what genes might be under selection, how are they adapting to live on these different types of coral?”