In an effort to understand how diversity is created and maintained, we study rapid evolution. How do evolutionary processes interact to drive rapid adaptation to new and changing environments? To address this fundamental question, we use multiple study systems, both field and laboratory approaches, and integrative tools.
Here are some selected research questions:
How do new sexual signals evolve?
We’re tackling this big question using a new sexual signal that we recently discovered in a field cricket. Males call to attract females, and the acoustic signal is shaped by intended receivers (female crickets) and unintended receivers (parasitoid flies). Our newly discovered signal sounds a bit like a purr, so we named them purring crickets. This discovery offers an unprecedented opportunity to observe the evolution of a signal in real time–we are tracking how the signal (male song) and selective forces change over time. Collaborators: Robin Tinghitella, Aaron Wikle, Gabby Gurule-Small, Claudia Hallagan, Jay Gallagher, David Zonana, and Jake Wilson.
What is the role of phenotypic plasticity in rapid evolution?
By taking advantage of the newly evolved purring signal, we can design experiments to test the role of plasticity in the spread of this novel signal. We are exploring plasticity of the signal as well as plasticity of the preferences and sensory abilities of receivers (crickets and flies). Another way to study rapid evolution to novel environments is by experimentally introducing animals to new locations. We transplanted guppies (small freshwater fish) to streams with new selective pressures and used common garden quantitative genetics experiments to investigate the role of the environment (plasticity) in the early stages of adaptation for traits like cerebral laterality, genitalia, foraging behavior, personality, and mating behavior in guppies. Collaborators: Robin Tinghitella, Aaron Wikle, Jay Gallagher, David Zonana, Cameron Ghalambor, Corey Handelsman, Emily Ruell, David Reznick, and Lisa Angeloni.
Applying evolutionary theory to conservation issues:
Can we use developmental plasticity to increase survival in sport and threatened fishes? We are using our understanding of how genes and the environment shape phenotypes to try to increase the survival of hatchery fish after they are stocked in Colorado. We’ve already learned a lot about how we can increase antipredator behavior in rainbow trout and Arkansas Darters by exposing them to chemical cues of predation in the hatchery. Collaborators: Chris Kopack, Eric Fetherman, Jessi Lepak, and Lisa Angeloni.
How does gene flow affect local adaptation? This question informs management decisions about when and how to supplement wild populations to prevent them from going extinct. Collaborators: Sarah Fitzpatrick, John Kronenberger, Chris Funk, and Lisa Angeloni.
Using authentic science to improve education and diversity and inclusion in STEM:
How does conducting and presenting scientific research affect self-efficacy and interest in science careers? We worked with a Latinx community in Colorado for 9 years to explore the relationship between authentic science, especially dissemination of research, and students’ self-efficacy (confidence in their ability to conduct science) and interest in pursuing careers in science. Collaborators: Katie Guilbert, Lisa Angeloni, Cameron Ghalambor, Shannon Murphy, and Robin Tinghitella.
Can we use inquiry approaches to improve evolution education? We developed a weeklong program, working closely with a group of fabulous middle school science teachers, to teach evolution by natural selection. The program was so successful that I worked with Dr. Emily Kane and the CSU College of Natural Science Education and Outreach Center to make it into a kit. By packaging our weeklong program into a 2-hour self-guided inquiry kit with live animals, we have been able to provide an amazing resource to a much broader audience–anyone able to come to CSU is welcome to schedule a kit session at the CSU College of Natural Science Education and Outreach Center. I also use the kit in my courses at St. Ambrose University. Collaborators: Stephanie Simmons, Sarah Warren, Kaitlin Knudson, Emily Kane, Andrew Warnock, Courtney Butler, Lynn Judish, Lisa Angeloni, and Cameron Ghalambor.
Can a summer camp increase participation in STEM for girls of color? Women are less likely to pursue majors and careers in STEM than men, and research suggests that these differences begin in childhood and adolescence because of stereotypes and lower self confidence for girls. This is exacerbated for women of color. STEM summer camps may increase self-confidence and interest in STEM. Our research takes a close look at how girls experience a STEM camp at the University of Denver so that we can improve our camp, but also so that we can offer recommendations on how to maximize effectiveness for other girls’ STEM camps with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of historically underrepresented women in science. Collaborators: Kirsten Fetrow, Shannon Murphy, Robin Tinghitella, and Jennifer Hoffman.