Priscilla Erickson's Lab

The Erickson lab studies how evolutionary changes in the genome produce biodiversity and influence adaptation to new environments. We currently work with an invasive species of fruit fly (The African Fig Fly, Zaprionus indianus) as a model to study how invasive species adapt to new environments. Z. indianus arrived in Florida in 2005 and rapidly spread northward. However, it currently cannot survive our winters in Virginia, so the population recolonizes from more southern locales each year and then persists for 5-10 generations in Virginia. This natural history allows us to study repeated natural experiments of the same species invading the same environment, year after year. We regularly sample two local orchards to monitor the presence of this species over time. We are using next generation sequencing and bioinformatics to study changes in the genome as Z. indianus adapts to new habitats each year. We can use these data to test whether evolution is predictable from year to year and to identify genes genome that are important for adaptation. We also rear flies collected from different orchards and different points in the invasion to see how they vary in traits such as morphology, stress tolerance, and longevity that may affect their survival in natural environments. Differences between populations may suggest local adaptation to different environments.

We are also interested in the evolution of novel traits and are using Z. indianus as a model due to its unique external patterning. Unlike other fruit flies, Z. indianus have striking white and black “racing stripes” along their thorax. We are currently developing CRISRP-Cas9 genome editing tools to study the functions of genes that may be involved in the development of stripes, with the long term goal of understanding how and why these stripes evolved.

Current Projects

  • Illumina sequencing of locally collected flies
  • Population genetic analysis of North American fly populations
  • Physiological assays of stress tolerance across North American populations
  • Characterizing life history traits (fecundity, development time, longevity) of North American fly populations
  • Testing for changes in morphology (body size, wing size, wing shape) in invasive populations
  • CRISPR-Cas9 of candidate genes involved in stripe development

Current University of Richmond Research Students

  • Christine Cole ‘24
  • Liam Dugan ‘23
  • Ansleigh Gunter ‘24
  • Jerry He ‘25
  • Sam Morgan ‘23
  • Jillian Yates ‘24

University of Richmond Graduates (Partial List)

  • Anush Margaryan ‘25