Robert W. Thacker, Professor and Chair (
University of Michigan, 1995
Systematics, phylogenetics, and ecology
Lab Website: Thacker Lab Website
Research in Dr. Thacker’s laboratory focuses on taxonomy, systematics, and the evolution of ecological interactions. Recent projects have used sponges and their symbiotic microbial communities as model systems to study coevolution among hosts and symbionts, the evolution of community structure, and the evolution of mutualistic interactions. Dr. Thacker’s research group integrates morphological and molecular approaches to systematics across the immense biodiversity represented by the four classes of sponges through the Porifera Tree of Life (PorToL) project, which is constructing a definitive phylogeny of sponges. Two additional projects build on PorToL by developing bioinformatic tools that can be applied to all taxonomic groups; these collaborative projects include investigators and students at multiple universities and software development companies. Arbor is a novel software package for comparative evolutionary analyses. This software is designed to place tree-thinking tools into the hands of scientists across multiple disciplines, enabling rapid advances in integrative and comparative biology at multiple phylogenetic, spatial, and temporal scales. Next-Generation Phenomics for the Tree of Life combines text mining, image analysis, and machine learning software to automate phenotypic character discovery and scoring from publications and images.