Rowan Barrett

Associate Professor,
McGill University

Redpath Museum
Institution page


  • PhD (Zoology), University of British Columbia, Canada, 2010
  • MSc (Biology), McGill University, Canada, 2005
  • BSc (Biological Sciences), University of Guelph, Canada, 2003


Rapid environmental change has been shown to result in elevated extinction rates and thus poses a significant threat to Canadian biodiversity. By using manipulative field experiments to connect fitness-related traits with underlying genetic architecture in relevant ecological scenarios, my research program investigates the evolutionary capabilities of natural populations to adapt to changing environments. My long-term goal is to address several basic questions about the genetics of adaptation that would aid our ability to generate predictive models of evolutionary change; these include but are not limited to: 1) How strong is natural selection on phenotypes, and how does this selection “filter down” to the genetic level? 2) How are regions affected by selection distributed throughout the genome? 3) What are the causal agents of natural selection? 4) What are the mechanisms underlying population responses to environmental change? There is theory addressing several of these questions, but we have few empirical tests in nature. Using two key study systems (stickleback fish and deer mice), my research program combines field-based selection experiments with molecular and computational biology to focus on two key areas: adaptation to changing environments and experimental genomics. The strength of this research program for enabling predictions about how biological systems will respond to environmental change lies in its interdisciplinary nature, integrating methods and knowledge from ecology, evolution and genomics. Solving climate change related problems such as species extinctions, invasive species, and the environmental health of society depends directly on the intersections between these disciplines of biology.

Prizes and honours

  • 2013 - Canada Research Chair in Biodiversity Science
  • 2013 - Dobzhansky Prize, Society for the Study of Evolution
  • 2012 - Young Investigators Prize, American Society of Naturalists
  • 2011 - John Maynard Smith Prize, European Society for Evolutionary Biology
  • 2011 - Governor General Gold Medal, Government of Canada
  • 2011 - Faculty of Science Graduate Prize, University of British Columbia
  • 2010 - Howard Alper Prize, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • 2010 - Best Talk, Evolutionary Biology of the Northwest meeting
  • 2008 - Best Talk, Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution meeting

QCBS students

Madlen Stange

Postdoctoral fellow
(Start: 2018)
Other QCBS (co-)supervisor: Andrew Hendry
Illuminating the genomic basis of adaptation to ionic gradients in Canadian freshwater fishes during invasion of an exotic species in the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers
Personal page

Marc-Olivier Beausoleil

(Start: 2017, End: 2022)
The impact of anthropogenic activity on the evolution of Darwin's finches on the Galápagos Islands
Personal page

Victoria Marie Glynn

Other (co-)supervisor: David Kline, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)
(Start: 2019)
Corals’ molecular response to climate change in the neotropics: Using CRISPR-Cas9 to ascertain the functional importance of differentially-transcribed and methylated genes

Ananda Regina Pereira Martins

(Start: 2016)
Bates Revisited: The origin of wing pattern variation in the Amazon
Personal page

Charles (Cong) Xu

(Start: 2016)
Directly estimating the genome-wide consequences of natural selection using a field experiment with deer mice
Personal page

Previous students (since 2009)

Antoine Paccard

Postdoctoral fellow
(Start: 2014, End: 2017)
The genomics of adaptation de temperature tolerance in the threespine stickleback fish
Personal page

Sarah Baldwin

(Start: 2013, End: 2018)
Other QCBS (co-)supervisor: Daniel Schoen
Why does self-incompatibility persist in natural populations?
Personal page

Dieta Hanson

Other (co-)supervisor: Rowan Barrett, McGill University
(Start: 2012, End: 2016)
Other QCBS (co-)supervisor: Andrew Hendry
Parallelism in ecological speciation of Threespine Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus)
Personal page

Juntao Hu

(Start: 2015, End: 2018)
Evolutionary adaptation of threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) to temperature regime

Examples of species studied

Gasterosteus aculeatus
Cucumis sativus
Spodoptera exigua
Peromyscus leucopus
Peromyscus maniculatus
Poecilia reticulata


46- The Epigenetic Signature of Colonizing New Environments in Anolis Lizards
Hu J , Askary A M , Thurman T J , Spiller D A , Palmer T M , Pringle R M , Barrett R D H ,
2019 Molecular biology and evolution (Date Added: 2019-10-13)

45- Understanding maladaptation by uniting ecological and evolutionary perspectives
Brady S P , Bolnick D I , Barrett R D H , Chapman L , Crispo E , Derry A M , Eckert C G , Fraser D J , Fussmann G F , Gonzalez A , Guichard F , Lamy T , Lane J , McAdam A G , Newman A E M , Paccard A , Robertson B , Rolshausen G , Schulte P M , Simons A M , Vellend M , Hendry A ,
2019 American Naturalist (Date Added: 2019-09-15)

44- Causes of maladaptation
Brady S P , Bolnick D I , Angert A L , Gonzalez A , Barrett R D , Crispo E , Derry A M , Eckert C G , Fraser D J , Fussmann G F , Guichard F , Lamy T , McAdam A G , Newman A E , Paccard A , Rolshausen G , Simons A M , Hendry A P ,
2019 Evolutionary Applications (Date Added: 2019-08-31)

43- Conservation through the lens of (mal)adaptation: Concepts and meta-analysis
Derry A M , Fraser D J , Brady S P , Astorg L , Lawrence E R , Martin G K , Matte J , Negrín Dastis J O , Paccard A , Barrett R D H , Chapman L J , Lane J E , Ballas C G , Close M , Crispo E ,
2019 Evolutionary Applications (Date Added: 2019-08-31)

42- The population genetics of crypsis in vertebrates: recent insights from mice, hares, and lizards
Harris R B , Irwin K , Jones M R , Laurent S , Barrett R D H , Nachman M W , Good J M , Linnen C R , Jensen J D , Pfeifer S P ,
2019 Heredity (Date Added: 2019-08-20)

41- Trophic structure modulates community rescue following acidification
Bell G , Fugère V , Barrett R , Beisner B , Cristescu M , Fussmann G , Shapiro J , Gonzalez A ,
2019 Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Date Added: 2019-06-25)

40- Predator-induced collapse of niche structure and species coexistence
Pringle R M , Kartzinel T R , Palmer T M , Thurman T J , Fox-Dobbs K , Xu C C Y , Hutchinson M C , Coverdale T C , Daskin J H , Evangelista D A , Gotanda K M , A Man in ’t Veld N , Wegener J E , Kolbe J J , Schoener T W , Spiller D A , Losos J B , Barrett R D H ,
2019 Nature (Date Added: 2019-06-20)

39- Linking a mutation to survival in wild mice
Barrett R D H , Laurent S , Mallarino R , Pfeifer S P , Xu C C Y , Foll M , Wakamatsu K , Duke-Cohan J S , Jensen J D , Hoekstra H E ,
2019 Science (Date Added: 2019-02-08)

38- Keystone Genes
Skovmand L H , Xu C C , Servedio M R , Nosil P , Barrett R D , Hendry A P ,
2018 Trends in Ecology and Evolution (Date Added: 2018-08-15)

37- Genome-wide DNA methylation signatures of infection status in Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata)
Hu J , Pérez-Jvostov F , Blondel L , Barrett R D H ,
2018 Molecular Ecology (Date Added: 2018-08-04)

36- Adaptation in temporally variable environments: Stickleback armor in periodically breaching bar-built estuaries
Paccard A , Wasserman B A , Hanson D , Astorg L , Durston D , Kurland S , Apgar T M , El-Sabaawi R W , Palkovacs E P , Hendry A P , Barrett R D H ,
2018 Journal of Evolutionary Biology (Date Added: 2018-04-16)

35- Admixture on the northern front: Population genomics of range expansion in the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) and secondary contact with the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)
Garcia-Elfring A , Barrett R D H , Combs M , Davies T J , Munshi-South J , Millien V ,
2017 Heredity (Date Added: 2017-11-16)

34- Heritable gene expression differences between lake and stream stickleback include both parallel and antiparallel components
Hanson D , Hu J , Hendry A P , Barrett R D H ,
2017 Heredity (Date Added: 2017-10-22)

33- Contrasting effects of environment and genetics generate a continuum of parallel evolution
Stuart Y E , Veen T , Weber J N , Hanson D , Ravinet M , Lohman B K , Thompson C J , Tasneem T , Doggett A , Izen R , Ahmed N , Barrett R D H , Hendry A P , Peichel C L , Bolnick D I ,
2017 Nature Ecology and Evolution (Date Added: 2017-10-01)

32- Epigenetics in natural animal populations
Hu J , Barrett R D H ,
2017 Journal of Evolutionary Biology (Date Added: 2017-09-20)

31- Predicting responses to contemporary environmental change using evolutionary response architectures
Bay R A , Rose N , Barrett R , Bernatchez L , Ghalambor C K , Lasky J R , Brem R B , Palumbi S R , Ralph P ,
2017 American Naturalist (Date Added: 2017-05-06)

30- Multilocus approaches for the measurement of selection on correlated genetic loci
Gompert Z , Egan S P , Barrett R D H , Feder J L , Nosil P ,
2017 Molecular Ecology (Date Added: 2017-02-09)

29- Assessing reproductive isolation using a contact zone between parapatric lake-stream stickleback ecotypes
Hanson, D, Moore, J-S, Taylor, EB, Barrett, RDH, Hendry, AP
2016 Journal of Evolutionary Biology (Date Added: 2016-11-24)

28- The genetic consequences of selection in natural populations
Thurman, TJ, Barrett, RDH
2016 Molecular Ecology (Date Added: 2016-04-26)

27- Testing for parallel allochronic isolation in lake-stream stickleback
Hanson, D, Barrett, RDH, Hendry, AP
2016 Journal of Evolutionary Biology (Date Added: 2016-01-15)

26- Dramatically different strengths of selection on a phenotypic trait and its major underlying gene in threespine stickleback
Rennison, DJ, Heilbron, KA, Barrett, RDH, Schluter, D
2015 American Naturalist (Date Added: 2016-06-21)

25- Evolutionary rescue under environmental change?
Barrett, RDH, Hendry, AP
2015 Behavioural Responses to a Changing World: Mechanisms and Consequences (Date Added: 2015-08-24)

24- Discriminating Selection on Lateral Plate Phenotype and Its Underlying Gene, Ectodysplasin , in Threespine Stickleback
Rennison, DJ, Heilbron, K, Barrett, RDH, Schluter, D
2015 The American Naturalist (Date Added: 2015-01-15)

23-Molecular plasticity facilitates the colonization of freshwater in threespine stickleback
Morris, M
2014 Molecular Ecology ( Date Added: 2016-06-20)

22- Gene expression plasticity evolves in response to colonization of freshwater lakes in threespine stickleback
Morris, MRJ, Richard, R, Leder, EH, Barrett, RDH, Aubin-Horth, N, Rogers, SM
2014 Molecular Ecology (Date Added: 2014-07-08)

20- Bad coat, ripped genes: cryptic selection on coat colour varies with ontogeny in Soay sheep
Barrett, RDH
2012 Molecular Ecology (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

19- Evolutionary rescue under environmental change?
Barrett, R, Hendry, A
2012 Behavioural responses to a changing world : mechanisms and consequences (Date Added: 2012-08-10)

18- Molecular spandrels: tests of adaptation at the genetic level
Barrett, RDH, Hoekstra, HE
2011 Nature Reviews Genetics (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

17-Clarifying mechanisms of evolution in stickleback using field studies of natural selection on genes
Barrett, RDH, Schluter, D
2010 In search of the causes of evolution: from field observations to mechanisms ( Date Added: 2013-09-05)

16- Rapid evolution of cold tolerance in stickleback
Barrett, RDH, Paccard, A, Healy, TM, Bergek, S, Schulte, PM, Schluter, D, Rogers, SM
2010 Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

15- Natural selection and the genetics of adaptation in threespine stickleback
Schluter, D, Marchinko, KB, Barrett, RDH, Rogers, SM
2010 Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

13- Environment specific pleiotropy facilitates divergence at the ectodyplasin locus in threespine stickleback
Barrett, RDH, Rogers, SM, Schluter, D
2009 Evolution (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

12- Should I stay or should I go? The Ectodysplasin locus is associated with behavioural differences in threespine stickleback
Barrett, RDH, Vines, TH, Bystriansky, JS, Schulte, PM
2009 Biology Letters (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

11- Ecology and evolution join forces to good effect
Barrett, RDH, Vamosi, JC
2008 Biology Letters (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

10- Natural Selection on a Major Armor Gene in Threespine Stickleback
Barrett, RDH, Rogers, SM, Schluter, D
2008 Science (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

9- Adaptation from standing genetic variation
Barrett, R, Schluter, D
2008 Trends in Ecology & Evolution (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

8- The Distribution of Beneficial Mutant Effects Under Strong Selection
Barrett, RDH, M'Gonigle, LK, Otto, SP
2006 Genetics (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

7- Mutations of intermediate effect are responsible for adaptation in evolving Pseudomonas fluorescens populations
Barrett, RDH, Craig MacLean, R, Bell, G
2006 Biology Letters (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

6- The dynamics of diversification in evolving pseudomonas populations
Barrett, RDH, Bell, G
2006 Evolution (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

5- Erratum
Barrett, R, MacLean, R, Bell, G
2006 The American Naturalist (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

4- Experimental Evolution of Pseudomonas fluorescens in Simple and Complex Environments
Barrett, R, MacLean, R, Bell, G
2005 The American Naturalist (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

3- Reply to the comment by L. Prendini on "Identifying spiders through DNA barcodes"
Hebert, PDN, Barrett, RDH
2005 Canadian Journal of Zoology (Date Added: 2013-09-04)

2- Identifying spiders through DNA barcodes
Barrett, RDH, Hebert, PDN
2005 Canadian Journal of Zoology (Date Added: 2013-09-04)