I am a PhD student in the Svardal lab at the University of Antwerp. I am interested in the evolution of adaptive traits and using an integrative approach (genomics, morphology, ecology) to understand how and why populations change in response to their environment. I have been granted an FWO PhD Fellowship (co-supervised by Raoul Van Damme and Kris Laukens) to investigate the genomic basis of osteoderm expression in the Cape Cliff Lizard, Hemicordylus capensis. My work is part of a collaborative project studying the evolutionary basis of variation in this trait.

Previously, I completed an MSci degree at the University of Glasgow, where I investigated the genetic basis of colour variation in common lizards, working with Hans Recknagel and Kathryn Elmer. As part of my degree, I did a one-year research internship in the Guschanski lab at Uppsala University, where I worked with Jaelle Brealey and gained first-hand experience with aDNA techniques and bioinformatic methods for analysing metagenomic data.

Recent News

  • [January 2023] Paper out in Genome Biology and Evolution, reporting on the new H. capensis chromosome-level reference genome and including an investigation on the (previously unknown) sex determination system in this species.
  • [October 2021] Awarded an FWO PhD Fellowship to investigate the genomic basis of osteoderm evolution in a girdled lizard!
  • [August 2021] Article on temporal metagenomics of AMR in bear dental calculus out in Current Biology, from my time in the Guschanski lab at Uppsala University
  • [June 2021] Presented the results from my Honours project at Virtual Evolution 2021
  • [January 2021] Started my PhD in evolutionary genomics at the University of Antwerp

Submitted Manuscripts

  1. Genetic basis and expression of ventral colour in polymorphic common lizards
    Hans Recknagel, Henrique G Leitão, Kathryn R Elmer


  1. Chromosome-level genome assembly of the Cape cliff lizard (Hemicordylus capensis)
    Henrique G Leitão, Genevieve Diedericks, Chris Broeckhoven, Simon Baeckens, Hannes Svardal; Genome Biology and Evolution 2023.

  2. The oral microbiota of wild bears in Sweden reflects the history of antibiotic use by humans
    Jaelle C Brealey, Henrique G Leitão, Thijs Hofstede, Daniela C Kalthoff, Katerina Guschanski; Current Biology 2021.

  3. Dental calculus as a tool to study the evolution of the mammalian oral microbiome
    Jaelle C Brealey, Henrique G Leitão, Tom van der Valk, Wenbo Xu, Katia Bougiouri, Love Dalén, Katerina Guschanski; Molecular Biology and Evolution 2020.

  4. Melanism in common lizards (Squamata: Lacertidae: Zootoca vivipara): new evidence for a rare but widespread ancestral polymorphism
    Hans Recknagel, Megan Layton, Ruth Carey, Henrique Leitão, Mark Sutherland, Kathryn R Elmer; Herpetology Notes 2018.

Conference Presentations

  1. Introduction to the ERGA pilot project
    Biodiversity Genomics, October 2022, online; talk.

  2. Chromosome-level assembly of the Cape cliff lizard (Hemicordylus capensis)
    Biodiversity Genomics, October 2022, online; poster and lightning talk.

  3. Genetic mechanisms of colour divergence in common lizards
    Evolution, June 2021, online; talk.

  4. Recovering an authentic oral microbiome signature and host genetic diversity from historical dental calculus of non-human mammals
    Society of Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE) Meeting, July 2019, Manchester, UK; poster.

  5. How to identify ‘true’ oral taxa in dental calculus?
    Revolution 2019, Animal Ecology, Uppsala University internal symposium, Uppsala, Sweden; poster.


  • FWO PhD Fellowship (2021)
  • Undergraduate Travel and Mentoring Award SMBE19 (2019)
  • Erasmus+ Traineeship Grant (2018)
  • Dr Victor Lim Travel Scholarship (2016)