Research

The Dolby lab uses computational approaches to understand how physical (geologic/climatic) processes shape the formation of new species. The team works in diverse research teams to model how Earth’s landscape changes over million-year timescales and integrates this with large-scale genomic data to learn the mechanics of how Earth and life coevolve. This includes studying a diverse set of species and ecosystems to suss out mechanisms of evolution and the overarching patterns of diversification that extend beyond any individual place or species. 
 
The lab generally works with (big) whole genome or transcriptomic data and use statistical models to test what factors may have shaped genomic patterns. Researchers mix dry (computational) and fieldwork to answer the following questions. (1) How important are Earth processes (mountain building, river formation, climate dipoles) in shaping species diversification? (2) Are some processes more important than others? How can we tell? And does the impact vary by taxonomic group? (3) How can we quantify the cause-effect relationship of these processes using geologic and genomic data?
 
Example projects
 
Empirical earth-life systems
 
• Top-down geologic controls on genetic diversification of coastal species based on continental shelf width, tectonics, and sedimentation (global)
• Dual effects of river formation and monsoon precipitation on speciation of desert tortoises in the southwestern US
• Effects of landscape and climatic evolution on adaptation and diversification of plants and animals on the Baja California peninsula, Mexico
 
Theory of earth-life evolution
 
• Formalizing & quantifying the cause-effect relationship between Earth processes and genetic patterns
• Quantifying landscape change in a generalizable way
• Using information signatures in genomic data to compare speciation across taxonomic groups