Dr Maren Wellenreuther

2007 PhD, Auckland University, NZ.

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Associate Professor

Research | Current

My research is rooted in evolutionary theory and is unified by the goal of understanding how adaptive and non-adaptive evolutionary processes interact in nature. Research areas range from evolutionary ecology to genomics and focus on topics such as sexual selection, adaptation, aquaculture, selective breeding and population demography. Whenever possible, I employ complementary approaches at the genomic, phenotypic, ecological and environmental level. My work involves diverse species, ranging from damselflies to flies and fish, with the strongest focus being on fish in recent years. My research has societal relevance in relation to the diversity crisis, nature conservation, primary production, sustainable development, and global change.


My research group primarily uses teleost fish as a model group. Our three main areas of research interests are summarised below.


Applications to conduct Honours, Masters and PhDs in the group are welcome.


1) Developing accelerated breeding technologies for native marine fish species

Aquaculture is the fastest growing animal production sector in the world. The NZ aquaculture industry has reflected this global trend but a lack of diversity in terms of the range of species that can be cultured threatens long term growth and resilience. We seek to develop advanced breeding strategies based on novel tools adapted from other food production industries, including the use of whole genome information coupled with the automated assessment of commercially relevant traits, such as increased hardiness, growth and disease resistance. Our exemplar species are snapper and trevally which are based at the Plant and Food Research site in Nelson at the Seafood Research Facility. The Facility maintains broodstock fish, larval and juvenile fish, and can be used for experimental work and semi-commercial seed production. The backbone of the breeding work relies on the use of automated digital phenotyping combined with high throughput genomic technologies and covers the fields of reproduction, nutrition, disease genomics, quantitative genetics and genomic selection. The work is funded by a MBIE research programme (2016-2021).

2) Moving beyond SNPs: understanding the role of structural variants in adaptive evolution

Recent advances in genomic sequencing, notably the increase of long-read sequencing, optical mapping and novel assembly algorithms, now provide incredible resolution to study the presence (or absence) of a variety of structural variants. Using these tools we can now dissect the nucleotide variation contained within these structural variants as well as their ecological and evolutionary significance. For instance new studies are revealing a non-random distribution of structural variants in the genome, e.g. reuse of breakpoint locations providing insight into the mechanisms by which these variants may occur. Other work is examining the molecular mechanisms by which structural variations can contribute to adaptation and diversification, including via the suppression of recombination (inversions) and the independent evolution of genes (duplications). Structural variation is potentially more widespread and evolutionary significant than ever thought. My group uses snapper and seaweed flies to study the role of structural variants, particularly inversion polymorphisms, in adaptive evolution.

3) Maintenance of genetic polymorphisms

Why and how genetic polymorphisms persist over time is a classic problem in biology. Polymorphisms are found in a wide range of taxa. In humans, 5–15% of the examined genes are polymorphic, and in many cases alternative alleles can profoundly alter fitness. The relatively simple genetic basis of many polymorphisms (one or a few loci) makes them well-suited to study evolutionary processes, even in non-model organisms. This is part of the reason why polymorphic systems have recently become popular when studying the early stages of speciation and mechanisms facilitating or constraining reproductive isolation. My group uses colour polymorphic damselflies and seaweed flies with inversion polymorphism to shed light on these questions.


Postgraduate supervision

Applications to conduct Honours, Masters and PhDs in the group are welcome.


Current team members



Emma Bredan (University of Gothenburg, Sweden). Other advisors: Kerstin Johannesson and Roger Butlin. Topic: Chromosomes on shuffle: disentangling the relative contributions of natural selection, sexual selection, and drift on the evolution of a chromosomal inversion in the Swedish seaweed fly.

Claire Mérot (University of Laval, Canada). Other advisor: Louis Bernatchez. Topic: Chromosome inversions and adaptation to heterogeneous environments.

Pallavi Chauhan (Lund University, Sweden). Other advisor: Bengt Hansson. Topic: Genomic differentiation and gene expression in the dimorphic damselfly Ischnura elegans.

Matthew Wylie (Plant and Food Research, New Zealand).

Peter Morisson-Whittle (Plant and Food Research, New Zealand)


PhD students

David Ashton (Plant and Food Research, New Zealand). Other supervisor: Peter Ritchie. Topic: Identification of Quantitative Trait Loci (QTLs) in New Zealand Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus). Webpage

Noemie Valenza Troubat (Plant and Food Research, New Zealand) other supervisor: Peter Ritchie

Tom Oosting (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand) other supervisor: Peter Ritchie



2017                Science New Zealand National ‘Early Career Researcher Award’ for Plant and Food Research.

2013                KVA King Carl XVI Gustaf's 50-years award. This award is given by the Swedish King to researchers that promote and contribute to the knowledge and preservation of biological diversity.

Board/Leadership Positions

2017–present   Guest Associate Editor for Wiley journal Molecular Ecology, IF=6.1.

2015–present   Associate Editor, Wiley journal Evolutionary Applications, IF=5.7.

2013–15           PI and board member of the excellence centre CAnMove, Sweden.


2015                1st prize in a science video competition for CAnMove, Sweden.

2014                Invited member ‘Bilateral workshop Brazil-Sweden’ about adaption under climate change, Sweden delegation to Brazil.

2013                Invited to the LMK Foundation’s Idea Forum for Lund University, Sweden.

2007                Marian Cranwell Prize for best ecological PhD thesis, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

2006                The University of Auckland ‘Doctoral Completion Award’, New Zealand.

2002                1st prize for presentation at the Marine Science Conference, New Zealand.

Research and Travel Grants

2016                Nilsson-Ehle Endowments research grant, Sweden.

2015                OECD grant, Marie Curie Alumni One World Grant, STINT exchange grant between Lund University (Sweden) and UNAM University (Mexico).

2014                Entomological Society in Lund research grant, Carl Tryggers Stiftelse research grant, NESCent working group grant, USA.

2013                Research grant from the Kungliga Fysiografiska Sällskapet i Lund, Stiftelsen Lunds Djurskyddsfond, Helge Ax:son Johnson Stiftelse, Craaford Foundation, travel grant from Kungliga Fysiografiska Sällskapet i Lund, Stiftelsen Längmanska Kulturfonden, Sweden.

2012                Stiftelsen Lunds Djurskyddsfond, Nilsson-Ehle grant, Solander grant.

2011                Research grant from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

2009                Research grant from the Helge Ax:son Johnson Stiftelse, travel grant from Kungliga Fysiografiska Sällskapet i Lund, Sweden.

2008                Research grant from Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Solander grant, travel grant from Kungliga Fysiografiska Sällskapet i Lund.

2006                The University of Auckland Graduate Research Fund, contestable Travel Fund, from the University of Auckland, NZ.


2016                Leader of MBIE research programme ‘Enhancing production of NZ’s seafood sector using accelerated breeding techniques’.

2016                Associate Investigator, Marsden ‘testing for fishing-induced evolution’.

2013–17           Principal Investigator grant Swedish Research Council, Sweden.

2010–12           Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship, European Union.

2008–10           Postdoctoral fellowship, Swedish Research Council, Sweden.

2008                Postdoctoral fellowship, Swedish Wenner-Gren Foundation, Sweden.

2007                Postdoctoral fellowship, Carl Tryggers Stiftelse, Sweden.

2005                University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship, NZ.

2002–06           Top Achiever Doctoral Scholarship, NZ.

Areas of expertise

Evolutionary ecology, adaptation, genetic polymorphisms, diversification, genomics

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Catanach, A., Crowhurst, R., Deng, C., David, C., Bernatchez, L., & Wellenreuther, M. (2019). The genomic pool of standing structural variation outnumbers single nucleotide polymorphism by threefold in the marine teleost Chrysophrys auratus. Molecular ecology, 28 (6), 1210-1223. 10.1111/mec.15051
  • Wellenreuther, M., Mérot C, Berdan, E., & Bernatchez, L. (2019). Going beyond SNPs: The role of structural genomic variants in adaptive evolution and species diversification. Molecular ecology, 28 (6), 1203-1209. 10.1111/mec.15066
  • Mérot C, Berdan, E. L., Babin, C., Normandeau, E., Wellenreuther, M., & Bernatchez, L. (2018). Intercontinental karyotype-environment parallelism supports a role for a chromosomal inversion in local adaptation in a seaweed fly. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 285 (1881).10.1098/rspb.2018.0519
  • Wellenreuther, M., & Bernatchez, L. (2018). Eco-Evolutionary Genomics of Chromosomal Inversions. Trends in ecology & evolution, 33 (6), 427-440. 10.1016/j.tree.2018.04.002
  • Bernatchez, L., & Wellenreuther, M. (2018). Synergistic Integration of Genomics and Ecoevolutionary Dynamics for Sustainable Fisheries: A Reply to Kuparinen and Uusi-Heikkilä. Trends in ecology & evolution, 33 (5), 308-310. 10.1016/j.tree.2017.12.005
  • Bernatchez, L., Wellenreuther, M., Araneda, C., Ashton, D. T., Barth, J. M., Beacham, T. D., ... Naish, K. A. (2017). Harnessing the power of genomics to secure the future of seafood. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 32 (9), 665-680. 10.1016/j.tree.2017.06.010
  • Wellenreuther, M., Rosenquist, H., Jaksons, P., & Larson, K. W. (2017). Local adaptation along an environmental cline in a species with an inversion polymorphism. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 30 (6), 1068-1077. 10.1111/jeb.13064
  • Chauhan, P., Wellenreuther, M., & Hansson, B. (2016). Transcriptome profiling in the damselfly Ischnura elegans identifies genes with sex-biased expression. BMC Genomics, 17 (1)10.1186/s12864-016-3334-6

Contact details

Primary office location

Level 3, Room 301
New Zealand

Social links

Web links