Evolutionary Ecology Lab

We work on natural selection and evolution of adaptations. We combine genomic techniques, variation in natural populations and experimentation to study fundamental questions in this research area. We use insects as our main research system because they are extremely easy to study in the laboratory and the field allowing the development of integrative and multi-disciplinary research programs.

Group Members

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I am an evolutionary biologist with broad interests in ecology and evolution. After getting my BA degree in Biology and a Master degree in Ecology at Universidade de Campinas in Brazil, I went to Stony Brook University in the US to get my PhD in the group of Douglas Futuyma. At Stony Brook University I have also worked for two years as a postdoc in the laboratory of Walter Eanes. From Long Island I moved to another tiny island for a two-year postdoc in the group of Frank Jiggins at Cambridge University. In June 2014, I returned to Brazil to join the faculty of the Ecology department at Universidade de São Paulo.

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André is a biologist passionate about insects. He has experience on insect biochemistry and physiology. His Master and PhD research were carried out at the Chemistry Institute in the University of São Paulo (under Walter Terra supervision). He joined the Cogni group as a postdoc to develop studies on the Drosophila-Wolbachia-virus interaction to understand the influence of host and symbiont genotypes on viral infection.

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Camila is a MSc student in the Ecology Department at Universidade de São Paulo (starting Feb, 2016). She is interested in how the virulence of natural enemies, such as viruses, changes over the evolution of their hosts (Drosophila spp.). Camila got her Bachelor degree in Biological Sciences from Universidade de São Paulo in 2015. During her undergrad studies, she joined an exchange program at the University of Sydney, Australia (2013-2014).

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Murillo is a graduate Student in the Department of Genetics and Evolutionary Biology (2016-now). He received his B.Sc. in Biological Sciences from University of São Paulo (2012-2015). Murillo is currently working on contemporary selection in D. melanogaster immune system. Responsive image

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Lucas is a MSc student in the Ecology Department, and an undergraduate student of Applied Mathematics, both at Universidade de São Paulo. He is advised by Paulo Guimarães and co-advised by Rodrigo Cogni. Through mathematical modelling and simulations, he is exploring how species abundances affect the coevolutionary dynamics in mutualistic networks.

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Marcos Martins is a Biological Sciences undergraduate student at Universidade de São Paulo, with an exchange program at University of Canterbury, New Zealand (2015). His main interests are in evolutionary ecology, conservation genetics and phylogeography. He is currently working in the interaction among the endosimbiont Wolbachia, Drosophilla spp. and their viruses.


Recent advances in molecular biology opened exciting opportunities to study the interface of ecological, evolutionary and genetic processes for a detailed understanding of evolution of adaptations. In general, the main goal of our research program is to study the ecological pressures in the wild that influence the patterns of variation at the genomic level and result in the evolution of adaptations. We are interested in adaptations to the abiotic factors of the environment, as well as adaptations to ecological interactions. We have three main research programs:

Clinal adaptations in Drosophila melanogaster

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We have been using natural populations of D. melanogater collected along a latitudinal cline in the East coast of North America to study adaptations to climatic conditions. We are particularly interested in understanding evolution of reproductive diapause associated with overwintering, as well as to discern between natural selection and neutral factors as the causes of patterns of variation at the genomic level. We plan to expand this program by studying clinal variation in South America and look at variation in the entire genome. This project is developed in collaboration with the groups of Prof. Walter Eanes (Stony Brook University) and Prof. Paul Schmidt (University of Pennsylvania).

Evolution of ecological interactions (drosophilids and their natural enemies)

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We have been using the interaction between Drosophila species and viruses as a model system to understand coevolution. By tracking the genetic basis of the mechanisms of virus resistance, we intend to address classical questions in coevolution, evolution of host-parasite specificity, and the maintenance of genetic variation in natural populations. We are expanding this research program by searching for novel natural enemies in wild populations and by investigations of the selection pressures that natural enemies impose in the field. This is a collaborative project with the group of Dr. Frank Jiggins (Cambridge University).

Evolution of ecological interactions (in a plant-herbivore system)

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We have been using a highly integrative approach to study coevolution in an ideal plant-herbivore system: the alkaloid bearing legume Crotalaria pallida and its seed predator, the arctiid moth Utetheisa ornatrix. Our long term goal is to develop a through history of evolution of this specific interaction to unravel coevolutionary dynamics and to demonstrate reciprocal coevolutionary selection. This is a collaborative project with Prof. Douglas Futuyma (Stony Brook University) and Prof. José R.Trigo (Universidade de Campinas).


I am looking for very motivated people to join the group. I am recruiting postdoctoral fellows, undergraduate students, and graduate students interested in pursuing a Master or PhD degree. We have excellent opportunities for funding students and postdocs of any nationality, as well as opportunities for lab members to visit research groups in any part of the world (for periods of 6-12 months) and develop collaborative projects.

If you are interested please email me at rodrigocogni[at]gmail.com

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The University of São Paulo (USP) is the largest University in Brazil and the most prestigious in Latin America. Besides its excellence in undergraduate and graduate education, USP is committed to high quality research. We are in the Department of Ecology at the Biosciences Institute (IB). Our Department and Institute rank among the top in the country in terms of quality of research and international visibility.

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Our campus is located in São Paulo, the ninth largest city in the world. The city is a major cultural center, with an ethnically diverse metropolitan area and rich cultural life. São Paulo is also known for its diverse and sophisticated cuisine, hosting some of the best restaurants in the world.


Cogni, R.*, C. Cao*, J. Day, C. Bridson & F. Jiggins, 2016. The genetic architecture of resistance to virus infection in Drosophila. Molecular Ecology DOI: 10.1111/mec.13769 * shared first author PDF

Martinez*, J., R. Cogni*, C. Cao, S. Smith, C. J. R. Illingworth, F. M. Jiggins, 2016 Addicted? Reduced host resistance in populations with defensive symbionts. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 283: 20160778. * shared first author PDF

Cogni, R. & J. R. Trigo, 2016. Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids Negatively Affect a Generalist Herbivore Feeding on the Chemically Protected Legume Crotalaria pallida. Neotropical Entomology 45(3):252-527. PDF

Cogni, R., K. Kuczynski, E. Lavington, E. S. Koury, E. L. Behrman, K. R. O’Brien, P. Schmidt & W. F. Eanes, 2015. Variation in Drosophila melanogaster central metabolic genes appears driven by natural selection both within and between populations. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 282: doi 10.1098/rspb.2014.2688

Longdon, B., J. D. Hadfield, J. P. Day, S. C. L. Smith, J. E. McGonigle, R. Cogni, C. Cao, F. M. Jiggins, 2015. The causes and consequences of changes in virulence following pathogen host shifts. PLoS Pathogens 11(3): e1004728. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1004728. PDF

Lavington, E., Cogni, R., K. Kuczynski, S. Koury, E. L. Behrman, K. R. O’Brien, P. Schmidt & W. F. Eanes, 2014. A small system – high resolution study of metabolic adaptation in the Central metabolic pathway to temperate climates in Drosophila melanogaster. Molecular Biology and Evolution 31: 2032-2041 doi: 10.1093/molbev/msu146. PDF

Cogni, R., K. Kuczynski, S. Koury, E. Lavington, E. L. Behrman, K. R. O'Brien, P. Schmidt & W. F. Eanes, 2014. The intensity of selection acting on the couch potato gene - spatial-temporal variation in a diapause cline. Evolution 68: 538-548. PDF

Franco, M. S. & R. Cogni, 2013. Common-garden experiments reveal geographical variation in the interaction among Crotalaria pallida (Leguminosae: Papilionideae), Utetheisa ornatrix L. (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae), and extrafloral nectary visiting ants. Neotropical Entomology 42: 223-229. PDF

Hoina, A., C. H. Z. Martins, J. R. Trigo & R. Cogni, 2013. Preference for high concentrations of plant pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the specialist arctiid moth Utetheisa ornatrix depends on previous experience. Arthropod-Plant Interactions 7: 169-175. PDF

Cogni, R., J. R. Trigo & D. J. Futuyma, 2012. A free lunch: no costs for acquiring defensive plant alkaloids in an arctiid moth (Utetheisa ornatrix). Molecular Ecology 21: 6152-6162. PDF

Cogni, R., J. R. Trigo & D. J. Futuyma, 2011. Varying herbivore population structure correlates with lack of local adaptation in a geographic variable plant-herbivore interaction. PLoS ONE 6(12): e29220. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029220 PDF

Cogni, R. 2011. Book review: Experimental Evolution by Garland & Rose. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 396: 253-254. PDF

Cogni, R., 2010. Biotic resistance to plant invasion? A native specialist herbivore shows preference for and higher fitness on an introduced host. Biotropica 42: 188-193. PDF

Cogni, R. & D. J. Futuyma, 2009. Local adaptation in a plant herbivore interaction depends on the spatial scale. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 97: 494-502. PDF

Cogni, R. & P. S. Oliveira, 2004. Recruitment behavior during foraging in the neotropical ant Gnamptogenys moelleri (Formicidae: Ponerinae): does the type of food matter? Journal of Insect Behavior 17: 443-458. PDF

Cogni, R. & P. S. Oliveira, 2004. Patterns in foraging and nesting ecology in the arboreal neotropical ponerine ant, Gnamptogenys moelleri. Insects Sociaux 51: 123-130. PDF

Cogni, R., A. V. L. Freitas & P. S. Oliveira, 2003. Interhabitat differences in ant activity on plant foliage: Ants at extrafloral nectaries of Hibiscus pernambucensis in a sandy and mangrove forest. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 107: 125-131. PDF

Bonato, V., R. Cogni & E. M. Venticinque, 2003. Ants nesting on Cecropia purpurascens (Cecropiaceae) in Central Amazonia: Influence of tree height, domatia volume and food bodies. Sociobiology 42: 719-727. PDF

Cogni, R., G. W. Fernandes, D. L. M. Vieira, C. E. Marinelli, C. F. Jurinitz, B. R. Guerra, J. Zuanon & E. M. Venticinque, 2003. Galling insects (Diptera: Cecidomyiidae) survive inundation during host plant flooding in Central Amazonia. Biotropica 35: 115-119. PDF

Cogni, R., A. V. L. Freitas & B. F. Amaral-Filho, 2002. Influence of prey size on predation success by Zelus longipes (Heteroptera: Reduviidae). Journal of Applied Entomology 126: 74-78. PDF

Guimaraes, P. R. & R. Cogni, 2002. Seed cleaning of Cupania vernalis (Sapindaceae) by ants: edge effect in a highland forest in Southeast Brazil. Journal of Tropical Ecology 18: 303-307. PDF

Cogni, R. & A. V. L. Freitas, 2002. The ant assemblage visiting extrafloral nectaries of Hibiscus pernambucensis (Malvaceae) in a mangrove forest in Southeast Brazil (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology 40: 373-383. PDF

Cogni, R., R. L. G. Raimundo & A. V. L. Freitas, 2000. Daily activity of ants associated with the extrafloral nectaries of Turnera ulmifolia (Turneraceae) in a suburban area of Southeast Brazil. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine 136: 141-147. PDF