(last updated June 2008)


Current position
        Professor of Evolution
        Facultad de Ciencias
        Universidad de la República
Montevideo, Uruguay
Mail (PO box)
        Casilla 12106

        Montevideo 11300

Mail (street address)
Laboratorio de Evolución
        Facultad de Ciencias
        Iguá 4225
        Montevideo 11400
Phone:  (598 2) 525 8618 ext: dial 7, then 143
Fax:    (598 2) 525 8617




CV    Career outline   Honors, fellowships   Research   Students and postdocs   Selected publications  
Teaching materials (in Spanish)
  Página en Español

Outline of academic career


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Postdoctoral fellowships, honors


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My program focuses on diverse aspects of evolutionary processes, including population structure, phylogenetics, molecular evolution, and biogeography, primarily, but not exclusively, in mammals.

The Patagonian project

Postglacial Patagonia: evolutionary responses of small mammals to climate change

view from Cerro Corona, Somuncura Plateau

Collaborators: Guillermo D´Elía, Ulyses Pardiñas, Carolina Abud, Matías Feijoo 

This long-term project aims at understanding the current diversity and history of small mammals of the Patagonian region (including Tierra del Fuego) using systematic and population genetic tools.  Extensive field work was carried out on 2005-2006 with support from the National Geographic Society, Committee for Research and Exploration (with CO-PIs: Guillermo D´Elía, Universidad de Concepción, Chile, and Ulyses Pardiñas, Centro Nacional Patagónico, Conicet, Puerto Madryn, Argentina).  Standard skins and skeletons were prepared along chromosomal, parasite, and tissue preparations.  Currently, DNA sequencing and morphological analyses are under way to determine patterns of variation and evidence of the history of populations and their response to historical climate change since the Pleistocene.  Conceptually, the project was motivated by earlier work on the late Pleistocene history of mammals in western Amazonia and Western North America:

Lessa, E. P., J. A. Cook, & J. L. Patton.  2003.  Genetic footprints of demographic expansion in North America, but not Amazonia, during the Late Quaternary.  PNAS 100:10331-10334.

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Evolution of tuco-tucos (Ctenomys)

Population genetic, molecular phylogenetic, and morpholological approaches to the study of the evolution of subterranean tuco-tucos (Ctenomys) and allies

tuco-tuco from Cerro Ventana,

Prov. of Santa Cruz, Argentina

Past and current collaborators: Carlos Altuna, Aníbal Castillo, Joe Cook, María Noel Cortinas, Ana Paula Cutrera, Alejandro D´Anatro, Guillermo D´Elía, Thales de Freitas, Marcelo Kittlein, Matías Mora, Alvaro Novello, Andrés Parada, Susana Rossi, Claudio Slamovits, Ivanna Tomasco, Aldo Vassallo, Diego Verzi, Gabriela Wlasiuk

This long-term line of research focuses on tuco-tucos as a model for the study of diversification.  Tuco-tucos offer interesting opportunities to examine the processes of evolution for several reasons:  a) they represent one of the most recent invasions of the subterranean niche, therefore offering a variety of levels of specialization; b) they are allied to octodontids, a group of fossorial rodents that include an independently derived, fully subterranean lineage: the coruro (Spalacopus); c) they have a rich fossil record that includes complete skeletons and burrows; d) they have diverse types of social structure (including the social tuco-tuco, C. sociabilis); and d) they are though to represent a case of recent and explosive speciation.   In collaboration with many colleagues and current and former students, I have been interested in examining processes of diversification at various levels of organization and with different approaches.  Population genetic analyses have been used to examine the roles of strict isolation, gene flow, demographic history and natural selection in shaping geographical variation.  Phylogenetic analyses have been exploited to understand the rate and tempo of tuco-tuco diversification, the identification of species groups and their biogeographical history, and evidence of neutral and adaptive change at the molecular level.  Morphometric and morphological analyses have been used to examine both population-level and larger scale patterns of divergence (including both recent and fossil taxa).


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Graduate students and postdocs

Leo Joseph, postdoctoral fellow, 1994-1997.

Guillermo D'Elía, M.Sc. 1996.
Graciela García, Ph.D.1996.
María Noel Cortinas, M.Sc. 1998.
Federico Hoffmann, M.Sc. 1998.
Marila Lázaro, M.Sc. 2001.
Gabriela Wlasiuk, M.Sc. 2001.
Ivanna Tomasco, M.Sc. 2003, doctoral student.
Juan Opazo, Ph.D. 2003 (co-adivsor: Eduardo Palma).
Virginia Little, M.Sc. 2005.

María Jesús Sanz Martín, Ph.D. 2006 (co-advisor: Gonzalo Pérez-Suárez)
Bettina Tassino, Ph. D. 2006.

Alejandro D'Anatro, M.Sc. 2006, doctoral student.
Andrés Parada, M.Sc. 2007
Paula Costa, M.Sc. 2008.

Alejandro Márquez, doctoral student.
Feijoo, master´s student.

Natalia Rego, master´s student (co-advisor: Hugo Naya).
Cecilia Da Silva, master´s student.
Juan Andrés Martínez, master´s student.
Sabrina Riverón, master´s student.
Carolina Abud, master´s student.

Undergraduate students (final research projects)

Ana Luz Porzecanski, 1995
Mariana Cosse, 1995
Gabriela Wlasiuk, 1998
Santiago Claramunt, 1998
Laura Lafon, 1999
Aníbal Castillo, 2002 (co-advisor: María Noel Cortinas)
Ana Vásquez, 2003
Andrés Parada, 2003 (co-advisor: Gabriela Wlasiuk)
Joaquín Aldabe, 2005 (co-advisor: Marila Lázaro)
Francisco Peñagaricano, 2005
(co-advisor: Ivanna Tomasco)
Carolina Abud, 2005 (co-advisor: Marila Lázaro)
Adrián Márquez, 2005 (co-advisor: Gabriela Wlasiuk)

Visiting students and researchers
Graduate students
Matías Mora, U. Nac. Mar del Plata
John Novembre, UC Berkeley
Carla Riva Rossi, Cenpat, Puerto Madryn
Juan Opazo, PUC Chile, Santiago
María Jesús Sanz Martín, U. Alcalá de Henares
Romina Ituarte, U. Nac. Mar del Plata
Bárbara Saavedra, U Chile, Santiago
Gonzalo Pérez-Suárez, U. Alcalá de Henares
Jacinto Navlet, U. Alcalá de Henares
Joe Cook, UNM, Albuquerque
Elisabeth Vrba, Yale U.
John Carlos Garza, NOAA Santa Cruz
John Wakeley, Harvard U.

Selected publications (see CV for full list)

Research articles  

Mora, M. S., E. P. Lessa, A. P. Cutrera, M. J. Kittlein, & A. I. Vassallo.  2007.  Phylogeographical structure in the subterranean tuco-tuco Ctenomys talarum (Rodentia: Ctenomyidae): contrasting the demographic consequences of regional and habitat-specific histories.  Molecular Ecology 16:3453-3465.

Opazo, J. C., R. E. Palma, F. Melo, & E. P. Lessa.  2005.  Adaptive evolution of the insulin gene in caviomorph rodents.  Molecular Biology and Evolution 22:1290-1298.

Castillo, A. H., M. N. Cortinas, & E. P. Lessa.  2005.  Rapid diversification of South American tuco-tucos (Ctenomys; Rodentia, Ctenomyidae): contrasting mitochondrial and nuclear intron sequences.  Journal of Mammalogy 86:170-179.

Lessa, E. P., J. A. Cook, & J. L. Patton.  2003.  Genetic footprints of demographic expansion in North America, but not Amazonia, during the Late Quaternary.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 100:10331-10334.

Wlasiuk, G., J. C. Garza, & E. P. Lessa.  2003. Genetic and geographic differentiation in the Río Negro tuco-tuco (Ctenomys rionegrensis): inferring the roles of migration and drift from multiple genetic markers.   Evolution, 57:913-926.

Lessa, E. P., & J. A. Cook. 1998. The molecular phylogenetics of tuco-tucos (genus Ctenomys, Rodentia:Octodontidae) suggests an early burst of speciation. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 9:88-99.

Lessa, E. P., B. Van Valkenburgh, & R. A. Fariña. 1997. Testing hypotheses of differential mammalian extinction subsequent to the great American biotic interchange. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 135:157-162. 

Lessa, E. P., & B. R. Stein. 1993.Morphological constraints in the digging apparatus of pocket gophers (Mammalia:Geomyidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 47:439-453.

Lessa, E. P. 1990. Multidimensional analysis of geographic genetic structure. Systematic Zoology, 39:242-252.

Lessa, E. P., & J. L. Patton. 1989. Structural constraints, recurrent shapes and allometry in pocket gophers (genus Thomomys). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 36:349-363.

Lessa, E. P., & C. S. Thaeler, Jr.1989. A reassessment of morphological specializations for digging in pocket gophers. Journal of Mammalogy, 70,689-700.

Book and book chapters

Kelt, D. A., E. P. Lessa, J. Salazar-Bravo, & J. L. Patton (eds.).  2007. The Quintessential Naturalist: Honoring the Life and Legacy of Oliver P. Pearson. University of California Publications in Zoology, vol 134.


Lessa, E. P., G. Wlasiuk, & J. C. Garza.  2005.  Dynamics of genetic differentiation in the Río Negro tuco-tuco (Ctenomys rionegrensis) at the local and geographic scale.  In E. A. Lacey & P. Myers (eds.), Mammalian diversification: from chromosomes to phylogeography, University of California Publications in Zoology, Berkeley, vol 133, pp. 155-173.

Lessa, E. P. 2000. The evolution of subterranean rodents: a synthesis. In E. Lacey, J. Patton and G. Cameron(eds.), Life underground: the biology of subterranean rodents. University of Chicago Press, pp. 389-420.

Articles for the general public and other essays

Lessa, E. P. 2002.  La biología y la enseñanza de la matemática: algunos apuntes. In Seminario: educación matemática en la educación media superior y el bachillerato.  Administración Nacional de Educación Pública, Montevideo, pp. 101-108.

Lessa, E. P. 2001. ¡Esto es cultura animal! Cuadernos de Marcha, Tercera Epoca, Año 15, No. 171:54-56.

Lessa, E. P. 1997. Neandertal. Chronos 1(2):21-26 & Cuadernos de Marcha, Tercera Epoca, Año 12, No.130:49-54.

Lessa, E. P. 1996. Darwin versus Lamarck. Cuadernos de Marcha, Tercera Epoca, Año 11, No. 116:58-64. (pdf)

Lessa, E. P. 1995. Ciencia básica, ciencia aplicada. Cuadernos de Marcha, Tercera Epoca, Año 10, No.  107:62-64.

Lessa, E. P. 1994. Elogio del cerdo fósil. Cuadernos de Marcha, Tercera Epoca, Año 9, No. 95:29-30.

Lessa, E. P. 1994. Cartas desde Africa. Cuadernos de Marcha, Tercera Epoca, Año 10, No. 100:65-67.

Lessa, E. P. 1993. Génesis de una nueva disciplina: la evolución molecular. Cuadernos de Marcha, Tercera Epoca, Año 9, No.87:57-59.

Lessa, E. P. 1993. Presente y futuro del PEDECIBA. Carta de Ciencia Hoy, Año 1, No. 1. Reimpreso en Cuadernos de Marcha, Tercera Epoca, Año 9, No.88:62-63.

Lessa, E. P. 1993. El sur también existe. Cuadernos de Marcha, Tercera Epoca, Año 9, No 90:33-34.

Lessa, E. P. 1993. Algunas reflexiones sobre los estudios doctorales: cuatro trampas y algunas pistas. Documento elaborado para la Comisión deDoctorados del PEDECIBA y distribuido entre los estudiantes doctorales del programa.

Lessa, E. P. 1981. Sobre la tesis de Bolk. Revista Garcín, Montevideo, 3:37-39.

Lessa, E. P. 1980. Charles Darwin: 120 años de "El origen de las especies." Revista Trova, Montevideo, 4-5:1.

Teaching materials (in Spanish)

Lessa, E. P. 2004. Guía de estudios de genética de poblaciones.  pdf En construcción, en la actualidad cuenta con capítulos sobre equilibrio Hardy-Weinberg, Deriva genética, Mutación, Selección natural, y El Coalescente.

En la página del curso de Evolución se puede obtener material para la enseñanza de la materia, incluyendo lecturas traducidas al español, un librillo de clases prácticas, y una colección de presentaciones para las clases teóricas, todo ello en formato pdf.  Está además en desarrollo una Red de enseñanza de la evolución en español y en portugués.

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