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Department of Zoology



I am an evolutionary geneticist with a focus on the genetic basis of adaptive evolution in vertebrates


Our main current areas of research is the evolutionary genetics of plumage coloration in birds and the co-evolution of coloration and colour vision in vertebrates. We are particularly interested in systems where we have a realistic chance of a comprehensive understanding of the genetic basis of adaptations, from causative mutations through to the adaptive phenotype via biochemical/physiological mechanisms. A strong current interest is in the genetics of carotenoid coloration which up to now has been severely neglected. We recently made the exciting discovery of a locus involved in converting dietary yellow carotenoids to bright red carotenoids for colour displays in birds, that is opening up many novel avenues of research. We also have a longstanding interest in the genetics of melanin-based coloration in birds, and are extending early studies on single locus polymorphisms underlying melanism to the evolution and molecular basis of plumage patterning, and the population genetics of melanism. Using primate brain evolution we have developed new quantitative methods to link gene to phenotype evolution over phylogenies, discovering genes underlying brain expansion in the process, and are planning to extend this analysis to a genomic scale.


Key publications: 

McRobie, H. R., Moncrieff, N. D. and N. I. Mundy (2019) Multiple origins of melanism in two species of North American tree squirrel (Sciurus). BMC Evol. Biol. 19, 140. DOI:10.1186/s12862-019-1471-7

Twyman, H., Prager, M., Mundy, N. I. and S. Andersson (2018) Expression of a carotenoid-modifying gene and the evolution of red coloration in ploceids. Mol. Ecol. 27, 449-458. DOI: 10.1111/mec.14451

Janssen, K. and N. I. Mundy (2017) The genetic basis and enigmatic origin of melanic plumage polymorphism in pomarine skuas (Stercorarius pomarinus). Proc. Roy Soc B. 284, 20171735. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1735

Mundy, N. I., Stapley, J., Bennison, C., Tucker, R., Twyman, H., Kim, K-W., Burke, T. A., Birkhead, T. R., Andersson, S., and Slate, J. (2016) Red carotenoid coloration in the zebra finch is controlled by a cytochrome P450 gene cluster. Current Biology 26, 1435-1440.

Twyman, H., Valenzuela, N., Literman, R., Andersson, S. and N. I. Mundy (2016) Seeing red to being red: conserved genetic mechanism for red cone oil droplets and co-option for red coloration in birds and turtles. Proc. Roy Soc. B 283, 20161208.

Corso, J., Bowler, M., Heymann, E. W., Roos, C., and  N. I. Mundy (2016) Highly polymorphic colour vision in a New World monkey with red facial skin, the bald uakari (Cacajao calvus) Proc. Roy Soc. B. 283, 20160067.

Janssen, K., Mundy, N. I. (2013) Molecular population genetics of the melanic plumage polymorphism in arctic skuas (Stercorarius parasiticus): Evidence for divergent selection on plumage colour. Molecular Ecology 22, 4634-4643 DOI: 10.1111/mec.12428

Walsh, N., Dale, J., McGraw, K. J., Pointer, M. A. and N. I. Mundy (2012) Candidate genes for carotenoid colouration in vertebrates and their expression profiles in the carotenoid-containing plumage and bill of a wild bird. Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B  279, 58-66.

Montgomery, S. H., Capellini, I., Venditti, C., Barton, R. A. and N. I. Mundy (2011) Adaptive evolution of four microcephaly genes and the evolution of brain size in anthropoid primates. Molecular Biology and Evolution 28, 625-638.

Mundy, N. I., Badcock, N., Hart, T., Scribner, K., Janssen, K. and N. J. Nadeau (2004) Conserved genetic basis of a quantitative plumage trait involved in mate choice. Science 303, 1870-1873.

Other publications: 

Janssen, K. , Bustnes, J. O., and N. I. Mundy (2021) Variation in genetic mechanisms for plumage polymorphism in skuas (Stercorarius). J. Heredity 112, 430-435. DOI:10.1093/jhered/esab038

Rodriguez, A., Mundy N. I., Ibanez, R., Pröhl, H. (2020) Being red, blue and green: the genetic basis of coloration differences in the strawberry poison frog (Oophaga pumilio). BMC Genomics 21, 301. DOI:10.1186/s12864-020-6719-5

Hohenbrink, P., Mundy, N. I., Zimmermann, E & U. Radespiel (2013) First evidence for functional vomeronasal 2 receptor genes in strepsirrhine primates. Biology Letters 9, 20121006.

Scally, A. et al. (71 co-authors) (2012) Insights into the evolution of the great apes provided by the gorilla genome sequence. Nature 483 169-175.

Montgomery, S. H., Capellini, I., Barton, R. A. and N. I. Mundy (2010) The ups and downs of primate brain evolution: implications for adaptive hypotheses and Homo floresiensis.BMC Biology 8, 9.

Theron, E., Hawkins, K., Bermingham, E., Ricklefs, R. and N. I. Mundy. (2001) The molecular basis of an avian plumage polymorphism in the wild: a point mutation in the melanocortin-1 receptor is perfectly associated with melanism in the bananaquit (Coereba flaveola). Current Biology 11, 550-557.

Professor of Evolutionary Genetics
Deputy Head of Department (Teaching)

Contact Details

Accepting applications for PhD students.