Arthur Porto Headshot

Arthur Porto


2016 PhD Evolution, Ecology and Population Biology Department of Biology, Washington University in St Louis, US
2009 Master of Sciences in Genetics and Evolutionary Biology
Departamento de Genetica e Biologia Evolutiva, Universidade de Sao Paulo,Brazil
2005 Bachelor of Science in Biology, Universidade de Sao Paulo, Brazil

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Area of Interest: 

My research focuses on understanding the evolvability of complex organisms, with particular emphasis on the role of modularity and developmental constraints in shaping multivariate evolution. I am currently leading several projects (see below), with research organisms that range from marine invertebrates to mammals. In my research, I tend to use a wide-array of approaches, varying from genomics to machine-learning. For that reason, I collaborate with geneticists, paleontologists, evolutionary biologists, statisticians and mathematicians.

Machine-learning-based Phenomics

Large-scale phenotyping (phenomics) is a budding discipline in evolutionary and paleobiology that is likely to bring about a revolution comparable to the one that genomics brought to biology two decades ago. Together with collaborators, I have recently (2019) founded the Consortium for Automated Image Analyses of Bryozoan Colonies (BryoIMDB). This consortium is creating a central database of hundreds of thousands bryozoan images for the purposes of machine-learning-toolkit development. Based on this database, I am developing and implementing cutting-edge machine-learning tools to extract high-dimensional high-throughput phenotypic and quantitative genetic data from both fossil and extant lineages. Other ongoing machine -learning projects involve flies, mice and fishes.

Developmental constraints and the Paradox of Stasis

Studies in contemporary populations often observe strong selective episodes which, when combined with the abundant genetic variation typically observed for individual traits, should lead to substantial and rapid diversification. The fossil record, on the other hand, shows substantive evidence of stasis, defined as long periods of little to no net morphological change. Together, these contrasting observations point to a critical gap in our understanding of the evolutionary processes taking place on ecological compared to geological timescales. This critical gap, termed “the paradox of stasis”, is one of the most neglected theoretical problems in evolutionary biology. My research on this topic uses combination of novel empirical and methodological approaches to disentangle the role of evolutionary processes and developmental constraints in shaping evolutionary change in complex morphological traits. Key aspects of the project include the use of a unique marine invertebrate model system (bryozoans) in which the shape of the adaptive landscape of phenotypic traits can be inferred directly from fossil specimens, due to the preservation of reproductive structures.

Genetic Architecture and the Evolution of Modularity

My research in this area focuses on the opportunities brought out by the increased availability of large genomic datasets and asks questions at the intersection of genetics and evolution. How does natural selection reshape the genetic architecture of complex traits? What is the speed, and through which mechanisms are such changes achieved? To what extent does the genetic architecture of traits influence macroevolutionary diversification patterns? To answer these questions, I use both empirical and theoretical approaches, using both the skull and blood lipids of mammals as model systems to tackle such questions.

Selected Publications

Porto, A. and K.J. Voje. 2020. ML-morph: A Fast, Accurate and General Approach for Automated Detection and Landmarking of Biological Structures in Images. Methods in Ecology and Evolution (In Press)

Voje, K.L., Di Martino, E. and Porto, A., 2020. Revisiting a Landmark Study System: No Evidence for a Punctuated Mode of Evolution in Metrarabdotos. The American Naturalist, 195(5).

Porto, A. 2018. Variational Approaches to Evolvability: Short-and Long-Term Perspectives. Evolutionary Developmental Biology: A Reference Guide, Springer, 1-14

Porto, A., R. Schmelter, J.L. Vandeberg, G. Marroig and J.M. Cheverud. 2016. Evolution of the genotype-to-phenotype map and the cost of pleiotropy in mammals. Genetics v.204(4), pp.1601-1612.

Grabowski, M. G. and A. Porto 2016. How many more? Sample size determination in studies of morphological integration and evolvability. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, v.8(5), pp.592-603.

For a full list of publications, see: