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Tobias van Elst

Tobias van Elst

Doctoral student



Project: Comparative phylogeography of nocturnal lemurs (Avahi spp., Lepilemur spp. and Microcebus spp.) in a center of biodiversity in eastern Madagascar



In my project, I will use three lemur radiations in northeastern Madagascar (genera Avahi, Lepilemur and Microcebus) as a model to study the relative importance and interactions of various factors driving the diversification and distribution of species. These genera show biogeographic patterns that cannot be explained by existing models and suggest the importance of rivers, altitude, and species-specific colonization potential as drivers of speciation. In addition, genetic patterns of Microcebus mouse lemur species indicate ongoing diversification. I will use restriction site associated DNA sequencing (RADSeq) together with population genomic and phylogenomic inference to reconstruct the phylogeographic histories of species in the three model genera in the study region. More specifically, I will reveal population structure, infer colonization routes, detect connectivity and hybridization between populations and species separated by rivers and mountain ranges, and infer the spatial and temporal setting of speciation events. These findings will shed light on the general principles underlying Malagasy adaptive radiations and will help to inform conservation priorities.

Tobias van Elst

Professional and scientific career

since 2020

Doctoral student at the Institute of Zoology of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover

Supervision: Apl. Prof. Dr. Ute Radespiel, Dr. Ariel Rodríguez, Prof. Dr. Klaus Jung, Dr. Lounès Chikhi



Scientific assistant at the German Institute for Food Technology (2 months)


2017 2020

Study of Biosciences at the University of Münster, Germany (Master of Science)

Master thesis: “Reconstructing the evolutionary history of the honey ant genus Myrmecocystus

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gadau and Prof. Dr. Marek Borowiec


2014 – 2017

Study of Biosciences at the University of Münster, Germany (Bachelor of Science)

Bachelor Thesis:  "Sociogenetic Structure in Lasius fuliginosus"

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gadau

Awards & Grants


Travel Grant provided by the IUSSI Northwest-European section

Student scholarship provided by the ERASMUS+ program of the European Commission



RISE worldwide scholarship provided by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)


I. Articles in peer reviewed journals






van Elst, T., Eriksson, T., Gadau, J., Johnson, B., Taylor, J., Rabeling, C. & M. Borowiec (2020) “Comprehensive phylogeny of Myrmecocystus honey ants highlights cryptic diversity and infers evolution during aridification of the American Southwest” Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 155. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2020.107036




van Elst, T., & J. Gadau (2018) “Temporal variation in social structure and worker reproduction in the temporary social parasite Lasius fuliginosus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)” Myrmecological News 27: 75-85. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25849/myrmecol.news_027:075


II. Abstracts of international conferences




Ultraconserved elements help to resolve evolutionary relationships across several time scales in the honey ant genus Myrmecocystus” (Talk) 112th Annual Meeting of the German Zoological Society, Jena, Germany, and 6th Central European IUSSI Meeting, Vienna, Austria




Facultative polyandry, polygyny, and worker reproduction in Lasius fuliginosus” (Poster) 18th IUSSI Congress, Guarujá, Brazil

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