Dr. Christophe Eizaguirre


Research division 3: Marine Ökologie
Evolutionary Ecology of Marine Fishes

Raum: A 42
Tel.: 0431 600 4559
Fax: 0431 600 4553
E-Mail: ceizaguirre@geomar.de

Düsternbrooker Weg 20
24105 Kiel


Personal Information

  • Birthday: 30. March 1982
  • Place of Birth: Bayonne (France)
  • Since 2009 Academic Research Scientist GEOMAR, Kiel, Germany. 
  • Oct 2008- Mar 2009: Post Doc,  Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Ploen, Germany.
  • 2008 PhD in Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Ploen, Germany.
  • 2005 Msc in Evolutionary Biology, Paris, France.
  • 2004 Msc in Biology, University of Toulouse, France 
  • 2003 Bsc in Biology, University of Angers, France 
  • 2002 DEUG in Biology, University of Bordeaux, France.
  • 2000 Baccalaureat, Bayonne, France

Group for Evolutionary and Conservation Genetics

Current Group Members:

  • Seraina Bracamonte (MSc student)
  • Franziska Brunner (PhD student)
  • Melanie Heckwolf (BSc.Student)
  • Joshka Kaufman (PhD student, MPI ploen)
  • Dr. Rebecca Scott (Post-doc)
  • Miguel Soares (PhD student)
  • Victor Stiebens (PhD student)
  • Dr. Enno Prigge (Post-doc)

Former Group Members

  • Luke Phelps (Msc student)
  • Stephanie Köhnk (Msc student)
  • Hendrick Schultz (Dipl. student)
  • Sandra Vogel(Dipl. student)

The lab is now moving to Queen Mary University in London. If you are interested in the work we do on speciation and conservation genetics, contact me!

Evolution of Marine Turtles

From evolutionary genetics to conservation: The Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) project at the Cape Verde archipelago. 

The endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle boosts the third largest nesting aggregation at the islands of Cape Verde. Despite the still high density of turtles breeding at the archipelago, local fisherman, local authorities and non-governmental-agencies have recognized a rapid collapse of the population. This decline is due to direct anthropogenic menaces such as poaching and fisheries bycatch and indirect human threats such as coastal development, increasing pollution and climate change. Together with the INDP (Institute for the Development of Fisheries), several NGO’s (such as Turtle Foundation), we built a strong network to advance research and conservation of the species. This triangular interdisciplinary network is rare and crucial to the survival of the population. We aim to establish robust conservation programs, which in turn will be implemented nationwide by the Cape Verde government. At the moment we have three main research directions at Cape Verde: 

i) Understand demographic events shaping the population structure and functioning across the different islands using neutral genetic markers (not driven by selection; markers of gene flow). We are further interested in recognizing patterns shaping population sub differentiation between islands using adaptive genetic markers (genes of the Major Histocompatibility Complex, MHC). These genes have as primary function to initiate responses to parasites and diseases and  their evolution is driven by natural and sexual selection. Thus, we are accessing the status of parasitism on female turtles and disease resistance to predict the possible responses of turtle populations caused by predicted increasing parasitism in a warmer future ocean.

ii) The above mentioned methods are all indirect measures to understand population functioning. These are much cheaper than actual observations. In a few “lucky” individuals we superimpose those results with direct data from satellite transmitters deployed on turtles. These transmitters are also equipped with CTD sensors (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) and oxygen optodes to get a grip on the habitat turtles live in. Unfortunately such devices can only be mounted on adult and subadults. However, to close the turtles life cycle the question of hatchling dispersal still remains a major mystery in the Cape Verde population. Together with ocean modelers we are working on dispersal models which could, at least in theory, predict where these hatchling and posthatchlings passively drift to.

iii) Reproductive behavior is the third key gap we aim to fill. Here we address questions of multiple paternity and female based mate choice (again using the MHC genes). Satellite data will also hopefully give import insight in the turtles mating grounds. 


Joshka Kaufman (PhD student), Franziska Brunner (PhD student).  Numerous collaborators are also involved in this project: Dr. Martin Kalbe and Prof. Milinski (Max Planck institute for Evolutionary Biology, Ploen, Germany), Dr. Tobias Lenz (Harvard Medical School), Dr. Demetra Andreou (Bournemouth University).

Ecological speciation has been the subject of intense research in evolutionary biology but the genetic basis of the actual mechanism driving reproductive isolation has rarely been identified. In my previous studies, we proposed that the extreme polymorphism of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), probably maintained by parasite-mediated selection, may contribute to population divergence. To tackle this question, we combine survey and lab and field experimental studies using three-spined stickleback river and lake ecotypes. Generally our results suggest the action of homogenizing selection within habitat type and diverging selection between habitat types. Finally, reproductive isolation may also arise from female mate choice for locally adapted males. Current work focus on co-variables of parasitisms and post-copulatory mechanisms since multiple traits and genetic basis must be responsible for complete reproductive isolation. 

Conservation genetics

The anadromous North Sea houting (NSH) (alternatively classified as Coregonus oxyrinchus or C. maraena) has a turbulent conservation history in Germany. Once an important fisheries species, construction of migration barriers and habitat loss resulted in its local extinction by the 1960s. Stocking with NSH from the last remaining population in the Danish river Vida in 1987 then led to the reintroduction in the German Treene River, which subsequently served as stepping stone for stocking of other German rivers. Here, we are interested in the genetical and ecological characterization of the NSH in the German waters since the onset of stocking programs 24 years ago. This study is one of few such assessments for NSH populations, and brings us closer to the goal to understand bottlenecks influencing NSH populations in the wild, including the respective role of migration barriers limiting access to spawning habitat, availability and extent of spawning habitat, and quantification of recruitment and mortality of different life stages. 

Evolution rescues endangered populations

Project performed in collaboration with: Dr. Arne Traulsen (MPI, ploen)

A central question in biology is how species can adapt to current environmental changes. Never before global conditions have changed as rapidly as nowadays. Although there is no doubt that microbes can adapt quickly to those changes, uncertainties remain for large vertebrates which already often suffer from major population decline. One challenge with those species is that lab experiments are not possible and therefore large knowledge comes from field studies. We therefore use theoretical evolutionary biology to question the effect of evolution rescuing declining/ overexploited population. We predict evolution to slow down the population decline when a given trait is being selected (size, growth), however, evolution fails to rescue declining populations when multiple traits are sequentially selected. Furthermore, in species  where evolution has found additive significance to some genes also involved in female mate choice, pace of population rescue is accelerated.     


  • Ravinet M., Harrod C., Eizaguirre C., Prodöhl P.A. New Perspectives on the three-spibed stickleback postglacial recolonisation of Europe: a view from the western fringe. Ecology and Evolution. In press

  • Stiebens V.A, Merino S.E., Roder C., Chain F.J.J., Lee P.L.M., Eizaguirre C. (2013). Living on the edge: how philopatry maintains adaptive potential. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Serie B. 280 (1763)

  • Stiebens V.A.,Merino S.E., Chain F.J.J., Eizaguirre C. (2013). Evolution of MHC class I genes in the endangered loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) revealed by 454 amplicon sequencing. BMC Evolutionary Biology. 13:95

  • Lenz T.L., Eizaguirre C., Kalbe M., Milinski M. (2013) Evaluating patterns of convergent evolution and trans-species polymorphism at MHC immunogenes in two sympatric stickleback species. Evolution. 67: 2400-2412.

  • Orsini L., Andrew R., Eizaguirre C. (2013) Evolutionary Ecological Genomics. Molecular Ecology, 22(3):527-531.
  • Lenz T.L., Eizaguirre C., Rotter B., Kalbe M., Milinski M. (2013) Exploring local immunological adaptation of two stickleback ecotypes by experimental infection and transcriptome-wide digital gene expression analysis. Molecular Ecology, 22(3):774-786.
  • Feulner P.G.D., Chain F.J.J., Panchal M., Eizaguirre C., Kalbe M., Lenz T.L., Mundry M., Samonte-Padilla I.E., Stoll M., Milinski M., Reusch T.B.H. & Bornberg-Bauer E. (2013) Genome-wide patterns of standing genetic variation in a marine population of three-spined sticklebacks. Molecular Ecology, 22(3):635-649.
  • Eizaguirre C.*, Lenz T.L.*, Kalbe M. and Milinski M. (2012) Divergent selection on locally adapted MHC immune genes experimentally proven in the field. Ecology Letters, 15(7):723-731 *equal contributions.
  • Eizaguirre C., Lenz T.L., Kalbe M. and Milinski M. (2012) Rapid and adaptive evolution of MHC genes under parasite selection in experimental vertebrate populations. Nature communications. 3:621. DOI:10.1038/ncomms1632
  • Wegner K.M. & Eizaguirre C. (2012) New(t)s and view from hybridizing MHC genes: introgression rather than trans-species polymorphism may shape allelic repertoires. Molecular Ecology. Molecular Ecology 21:779-781.
  • Samonte-Padilla I.E., Eizaguirre C., Scharzack J.P., Lenz T.L, Milinski M. (2011) Induction of gynogenesis in an evolutionary model organism, the three-spined stickleback. BMC Developmental Biology. 11:55.
  • Eizaguirre C., Lenz T.L., Sommerfeld R.D., Harrod C., Kalbe M. and Milinski M. (2011) Parasite diversity, patterns of MHC II variation and olfactory based mate choice in diverging three-spined stickleback ecotypes. Evolutionary Ecology. 25:605-622
  • Eizaguirre C., Lenz T.L. MHC polymorphism-dynamics and consequences of parasite-mediated local adaptation (2010). Journal of Fish Biology77:2023-2047. 
  • Bergman N., Winters G., Rauch G., Eizaguirre C., Gu J., Nelle P., Fricke B. and Reusch T.B.H. (2010) Population-specificity of heat stress gene induction in Northern and Southern eelgrass Zostera marina populations under simulated global warming. Molecular Ecology. 19: 2870-2883.
  • Lenz T.L., Eizaguirre C., Scharsack J.P., Kalbe M. and Milinski M. (2009) Disentangling the role of MHC-dependent 'good genes' and 'compatible genes' in mate choice decisions of three-spined sticklebacks under semi-natural conditions. Journal of Fish Biology. 75: 2122 - 2142.
  • Eizaguirre C., Yeates S.E., Lenz T.L., Kalbe M. and Milinski M. (2009) MHC-based mate choice combines good genes and maintenance of MHC polymorphism. Molecular Ecology18: 3316-3329.
  • Lenz T.L., Eizaguirre C., Becker S. and Reusch T.B.H (2009) RSCA genotyping of MHC for high-throughput evolutionary studies in the model organism three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus. BMC Evolutionary Biology9: 57.
  • Kalbe M., Eizaguirre C., Dankert I., Reusch T.B.H., Sommerfeld R.D., Wegner K.M. and Milinski M. (2009) Maximum life-time reproductive success with optimal MHC diversity: evidence from a semi-field experiment with sticklebacks. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 276: 925-934.  Recommended by Faculty of 1000 Biology. 
  • Eizaguirre C., Lenz T.L., Traulsen A. and Milinski M. (2009) Speciation accelerated and stabilized by pleiotropic MHC immunogenes. Ecology letters 12: 5-12. Recommended by Faculty of 1000 Biology. 
  • Eizaguirre C. (2008) The pleiotropic role of the genes of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) in Evolution. The example of the three-spined stickleback. PhD ThesisKiel University.
  • Jäger I., Eizaguirre C., Griffiths S.W., Kalbe M., Krobbach C.K., Reusch T.B.H, Schaschl H. and Milinski M. (2007) Individual MHC class I and MHC class IIB diviversity are associated with male and female reproductive traits in the three-spined stickleback. Journal of Evolutionary Biology20, 2005-2015.
  • Eizaguirre C., Laloi D., Massot M., Richard M., Federici P. and Clobert J. (2007) Condition-dependence of reproductive strategy and the benefits of polyandry in a viviparous lizard. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Serie B274, 425-430.  Recommended by Faculty of 1000 Biology.