Taxonomy, Systematics, and Bioinformatics
at the University of Glasgow

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A key question in coevolution is the extent to which hosts and parasites have speciated together ("cospeciation"). Our work on this topic includes several empirical projects on bird and mammal lice, insect-plant interactions, as well as theoretical work on developing methods for comparing host and parasite trees. This work is leading the the development of a new computer program for studying cospeciation, be written by Rod Page and Mike Charleston (a former post doc now a Royal Society research fellow at Oxford). Rod has also edited a book on cospeciation that will be published next year by the University of Chicago Press.

  • Cospeciation software (TreeMap)
  • Insect-plant coevolution



Lice are ectoparasitic insects found on birds and mammals, and have played a prominent role in the study of host-parasite cospeciation. Currently Vince Smith (Wellcome Biodiversity Fellow) is studying sucking lice (see people), Martyn Kennedy (New Zealand Foundation for Science and Technology) is working on lice from pelecaniiform birds, and Isabel Marshall is writing up her PhD research on the suborder Amblycera. Tom Ford joins us in October as a NERC-funded PhD student whose project "Did dinosaurs have lice?" aims to date the origins of lice.

Vertebrate genome evolution


We are using evolutionary trees for nuclear gene families to try and unravel the early evolution of vertebrates, and to test the hypothesis that two rounds of whole genome duplication have been important in vertebrate evolution. This research uses the program GeneTree, developed in our lab, and the database HOVERGEN. James Cotton's PhD research on this topic has been presented at international meetings in Montreal and London (where it won a prize, see awards). James will present his latest results at the Pacific Biocomputing Symposium in Hawaii in January (his supervisor is teaching and so can't go, and isn't at all bitter about this...).

RNA secondary structure

Sequences of ribosomal genes are commonly used for inferring evolutionary trees. However, the use of RNA sequences is complicated by their secondary structure. Inspired by the weird and wonderful structures found in louse RNA, Rod Page is developing methods for inferring these structures and exploring whether they can tell us anything about louse phylogeny.

Methods for inferring evolutionary trees



Our current focus is on developing methods for computing "supertrees," which are large evolutionary trees assembled from many smaller trees. Supertrees are one way to assemble the holy grail of systematics, the "Tree of Life."



Several phylogenetic and sequence analysis programs have been developed in our lab:

Insects and plants


In addition to our current obsession with lice (and their hosts), we also study other insects and even plants. Diana Percy has completed a PhD on coevolution between psyllids and their host plants on the Canary Islands, and several PhD students are studying the evolution of Begonia (based at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh).


We've experimented with using ellipitic fourier analysis to describe head shape in lice