Nicole Bitler Kuehnle studies native and non-native range expansion in marine mollusks. Nicole’s research uses fossil and modern data on marine clams and snails to compare evolutionary changes in species that have expanded geographic ranges along their native coasts with changes in invasive species that have crossed ocean basins with (accidental or intentional) human assistance. Nicole hopes to evaluate biological characteristics that may confer an expansion advantage (for example, body size), analyze changes in shell shape between the source and colonized regions in both native and invasive expansions, and experimentally assess the contribution of genetic evolution to such shell shape variation. Despite the negative consequences of invasive species, they may offer a window into the rapid evolutionary adaptation that occurs in a recently colonized region over contemporary timescales.
To study native range expansion, Nicole traveled up the eastern Pacific coast from northern California to Alaska this past summer, photographing snails at coastal sites across a latitudinal gradient (photo from Kodiak Island, Alaska). Nicole’s research has been fun for the whole family! Nicole’s mom, Cathy, and her cousin, Sarah (a marine biology major at UCLA) were fantastic fieldwork companions, and her husband, Patrick, enjoys taking care of the many snails (and sea stars) in the lab!
Nicole has enjoyed the vast academic and public service opportunities at University of Chicago and across the city. She has been an active member of the University’s Institute of Politics, and has taught after-school science classes for middle school girls through Project Exploration’s Sisters4Science program.