Dr Michael Knapp
Office: 309 Lindo Ferguson Building
Brief Description of Research
My research focuses on how species interact with their environment both on the molecular and on the population level. This interdisciplinary work aims at addressing two key questions: (1) how did past environmental change and human migration shape our present day biodiversity; and, (2) what is the genetic basis of evolutionary adaptation to new environments? I am using cutting edge next-generation sequencing technology to reconstruct the population dynamics of humans as well as the animals they encountered on their ancient journey out of Africa and across the globe. Together with climate and vegetation data this information can be used to reconstruct how faunal communities responded to changing environments over the past 50,000 years. I am also developing new ancient DNA sequencing techniques to reconstruct the genetic basis of evolutionary adaptation to new environments in extinct and extant vertebrates.
Current projects include:
1. Reconstructing the settlement of the Pacific (with Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith and Dr Hallie Buckley). The Pacific is the last frontier of human settlement. Migration into Remote Oceania started around 3,500 years ago and is associated with the spread of Lapita culture. Who were these Lapita people and were they the biological ancestors of indigenous people in the Pacific today? Was there prehistoric contact between Polynesia and South America? To address these questions we are reconstructing the ancestry of early Pacific settlers using ancient DNA extracted from human remains from across the South Pacific.
2. What killed the cave bear and the mammoth? (with Professor Michael Hofreiter and Associate Professor Beth Shapiro). Before a species goes extinct it must go through a time of declining population size. The timing and mode of this final decline can be informative for identifying its cause(s). Did a species decline rapidly or slowly and what contemporaneous factors could have facilitated the decline?
Are there any potential stressors that correlate strongly with the timing of the decline? To address these questions we are reconstructing the population dynamics of iconic Ice Age species such as the cave bear and the mammoth throughout the past 50,000 years using temporal genetic analysis of radiocarbon dated subfossil remains. We are then correlating these data with known contemporary environmental parameters and potential human interference.