I received my PhD in 1993 based on data from the still ongoing study of great reed warblers that we have carried out at lake Kvismaren since 1983. DNA-fingerprinting for paternity analyses opened my eyes for the use of molecular techniques in ecology and evolution. As a post-doc at University of California, San Diego in 1994, I isolated microsatellite markers from a Himalayan songbird. Since then I have added a diversity of techniques to my Molecular Ecology tool-box. Presently, I carry out two projects in parallel; genetics and genomics of migratory song birds and host-parasite evolution of avian malaria parasites.
It is firmly established that the migratory direction of song birds is hard-wired. But how a DNA sequence can make birds to perform precisely directed flights for more than a month, crossing deserts or oceans, remains a major unsolved problem. The emerging field of genomic ecology will expand our knowledge about such fascinating behaviors. The willow warbler with its migratory divide in Scandinavia is an excellent model species to address these questions.
My research group has taken an international lead in using molecular methods to study the diversity of avian malaria parasites and other haemosporidians. In 2000, we described the first general molecular method for detection and identification of these parasites. Bird malaria includes several thousands of species. Because of this diversity and the well characterized host system (birds), studies of these parasites will contribute with important understanding of evolution of host-specificity, host shifts and virulence.
Irwin, D. I., Bensch, S., Irwin, J. H. & Price, T.2005. Speciation by distance in a ring species. Science 307: 414-416.
Bensch, S., Waldenström, J., Jonzén, N. Westerdahl, H., Hansson, B., Sejberg, D. & Hasselquist, D. 2007. Temporal dynamics and diversity of avian malaria parasites in a single host species. Journal of Animal Ecology 76: 112-122.
Bensch, S.,Grahn, M., Müller, N., Gay, L. & Åkesson, S. 2009. Genetic, morphological, and feather isotope variation of migratory willow warblers show gradual divergence in a ring. Molecular Ecology 18: 3087-3096.
PhD students, asst supervisor:
PhD students, ext. supervisor:
Marcos Robalinho Lima, University of Brasilia, Brazil
Rita Kazlauskiene, Institute of Ecology, Vilnius, Lithuania