What do birds and fish have in common? For Julian Torres-Dowdall, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, both can provide insights into understanding evolutionary mechanisms. While studying migratory patterns in shorebirds as a master’s student, Torres-Dowdall became interested in how migration patterns evolve.
“Thinking about the organismal level led me to realize, okay, now I need to understand the molecular mechanisms as well,” he said.
Torres-Dowdall’s research is integrative and brings both biological levels together. He examines how genetic and developmental variations interact with the environment to determine evolutionary trajectories and how that affects communities. His lab’s emphasis is on the evolution of life history traits and color vision in fish.
“My research is trying to better understand the link between the genotype, phenotype, and environment,” he explained.
Torres-Dowdall looks forward to conducting his research at the University of Notre Dame and is excited about the diversity of fields of study in the biology department, from ecology and evolution to molecular and cellular biology. Thus, he believes it to be the perfect place to conduct his research.
He also enjoys learning from his fellow faculty members and exchanging ideas.
“I can talk to people who address completely different questions but might use techniques that I would like to apply to my own system,” he said.
In addition to the research possibilities, Torres-Dowdall is excited to teach and work with students. He appreciates the balance between research and teaching that the university provides, and he is highly impressed by the University of Notre Dame students that he has met.
“It seems that the students here are very interested in getting involved in research,” he said. “I have found them to be very bright and motivated.”
Torres-Dowdall’s interest in the natural world expands beyond the lab and classroom. In his free time, he enjoys exploring national parks with his 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.
“It lets me get my kids excited about nature too,” he said.