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Steven Smith, PhD

Konrad-Lorenz-Institute of Ethology
Department of Interdisciplinary Life Sciences
University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
Savoyenstr. 1a
A-1160 Vienna


T +43 (1) 25077 7336
F +43 (1) 25077 94 7336

E-Mail to Steven Smith


My principle research interests lie in exploring the maintenance of adaptive variation in wild populations and, more specifically, the role of habitat variability in driving genetic diversity. A major theme of my recent research is understanding the immunogenetic basis of individual fitness in non-model organisms. Further to this I have explored, in collaboration with reproductive biologists and physiologists throughout Europe, the link between mitochondrial function, oxidative stress, and male reproductive success.

Currently I am interested in population-level responses to a changing environment. The ability of species to track their preferred habitat or, alternatively, to adapt to novel conditions will determine how the ecological landscape evolves in the face of human-induced climate change. In a collaboration with Flinders University in Australia we are using an ecologically important species group, the Australian rainbowfish, to investigate the effect of changes in climate and habitat on expression patterns of functionally important genes.

The study system comprises a powerful set of replicated populations of well-characterized rainbowfish phenotypes (i.e. ecologically distinct populations) shaped by natural selection. Next generation sequencing and high-throughput molecular genetic approaches are being combined to map the distribution of genome-wide adaptive variation in wild populations and to monitor the regulation of expression of key genes under different laboratory-controlled scenarios of environmental change. We will integrate these two complementary data sets to clarify the genetic basis of adaptation to different environments and to assess whether environmental changes predicted for Australia should exceed the adaptive capacity of populations of this ecologically important group of organisms.

Research Experience

  • - Feb 2013 – Present
    Head of Genetics, Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna
  • July 2011 – Feb 2013
    Research Fellow, Flinders University, School of Biological Sciences. The effect of changes in climate and habitat on expression patterns of functionally important genes in Australian rainbowfish.
  • July 2010 – June 2011
    SeniorPostdoctoral Researcher, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. Projects included: telomere dynamics related to torpor use and cold adaptation in Djungarian hamsters; trade-offs between MHC-related immune response and reproduction in male European brown hares; and the mtDNA basis for reduced sperm function and breeding success in brown hares.
  • Feb 2008 – Jun 2010
    Postdoctoral Researcher, Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, Vienna. FWF funded project: “MHC genes and endoparasites in brown hares, Lepus europaeus: a model for understanding the meaning and consequences of immunogenetic diversity for individual fitness in wild living mammals”
  • March 2001 – Jan 2003
    Research Assistant, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology Leipzig, Laboratory for Conservation Genetics.
  • July 1998 – March 2001
    Research Assistant, Griffith University Molecular Ecology Laboratory