A precious biopsy sample collected following a successful shot. © Emily Cunningham

Daniel completed a NERC funded PhD at Durham University working under the Supervision of Prof Rus Hoelzel, Prof Oscar Gaggiotti and Dr Per Berggren from 2015 to 2020. His funding came through the IAPETUS Doctoral Training Partnership.

Broadly, Daniel’s research examined the role that environment has on shaping the population structure and evolution of marine vertebrates. By using next-generation DNA sequencing techniques to examine the population structure of two species, the bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus and the yellowmouth barracuda Sphyraena viridensis, across the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic he provided a novel understanding of their population structure. Use of Stable Isotope Analysis and integration of environmental and genetic datasets provided unique insights into the key drivers of the patterns discovered, including the surprising revelation that Sicilian dolphins form part of the offshore population and are more closely related to dolphins found in the Atlantic than to any other group within the Mediterranean.

Beyond contemporary patterns of population structure, Daniel also built on our understanding of historical evolution in bottlenose dolphins through advanced genomic bioinformatics and cross-examination with both fossil and palaeoclimate records. Further details will be announced as they are published later in 2020.

This research is important from two perspectives. Firstly, understanding population structure allows us to make best use of limited conservation resources. This is especially true in an increasingly busy and industrialized Mediterranean and where threats to species are often point focused. On a more global scale understanding how the environment influences evolution or population structure in a species is essential to helping us predict future impacts of a rapidly changing world.  Secondly, understanding the drivers and mechanisms of evolution is a fundamental  challenge in evolutionary biology and furthering this helps us to better understand the world around us and our place within it.

Research Area
Daniel’s research study area with frontal regions, key to this research, highlighted. The Almeria-Oran front is shown by the solid red line. The Siculo-Tunisian front is shown by the dashed red line to represent its temporal nature.

Partners and Collaborators