Welcome to the Krug lab at Cal State Los Angeles. We study the ecology and evolution of marine animals, focusing
on the ecological and evolutionary role of dispersal by planktonic larval stages. We seek to understand how dispersal
and habitat selection by larvae link populations, and to identify factors that limit gene flow, set range limits, and promote
speciation in the sea. The lab uses a group of herbivorous sea slugs as a model system to understand the general forces
that influence the evolution of marine life histories and impact coastal population dynamics. Click on the major research
topics (below) or the links on the left to learn more about our research.
Some of our work examines the evolutionary ecology
of range limits, to understand how physical stress
(heat, low salinity), biological interactions (competition),
and coastal currents that deliver larvae together
define the limits within which a species occurs. This
work will lead to better predictions of ecosystem
response to ongoing climate change. We use two
species in the genus Alderia as a model system for
studies along the Californian coast.
A sampler of sacoglossan diversity
We use DNA sequences to infer the phylogeny, or "family tree", of a sea slug group called sacoglossans, an exciting group with which to study key evolutionary processes. Most are herbivores that feed, mate and lay eggs on a species-specific host algae. We are investigating how traits like larval type and algal host use have influenced speciation and lineage diversification, and how traits have changed over the history of this intriguing group.
Some sacoglossans exhibit kleptoplasty, the remarkable ability to store chloroplasts (the part of plant and algal cells
that perform photosynthesis) from their meals. Instead of being digested, the hijacked chloroplasts continue to pump
out nutrients for the slug, in some species for many months. We are modeling how kleptoplasty evolves and affects
patterns of species richness in Sacoglossa.
Marine invertebrates have a two-stage life cycle, with non-reproductive
larval stages that metamorphose into the adult form. Feeding larvae
(termed planktotrophic) develop in the plankton for long periods of
time, during which they are dispersed by ocean currents. Dispersal
maintains gene flow and allows colonization of new habitats in species
with limited adult mobility (think clams.. where's a clam gonna go?)
Repeatedly in most animal groups, some species have evolved larvae that
complete development without feeding (lecithotrophic larvae), and spend
comparatively little time in the plankton; lecithotrophs do not disperse as far.
Why some species lose dispersive larvae from their life cycle remains a puzzle.
Theory predicts dramatic effects of such transitions on population dynamics,
gene flow, speciation, range size, and rates of molecular evolution. We study
the causes of evolutionary shifts in larval type in two ways: (1) using rare species
that express both types of larval development at different times or places, and
(2) by identifying traits associated with such shifts over evolutionary time.
We also study the consequences of shifts to non-dispersing larvae for (1) the
population genetic structure of related, ecologically similar species that differ
in their larval lifespan, and (2) reproductive compatibility and genetic diversity
top: veliger larva of a snail among populations in species that produce alternative larval types.
bottom: egg mass of the sea
slug Elysia subornata, with a
colorful ribbon of orange yolk
All images © Patrick Krug.