What role do sexual signals play in population divergence?
I’m working with Robin Tinghitella and a team of talented graduate students and undergraduates to explore sexual signals in crickets. Males call to attract females, and these calls shape both male and female behavior. We are currently working on the first manuscript for this project so stay tuned!
What is the role of plasticity in the early stages of evolution?
A fundamental question in evolutionary biology is how organisms respond to new and changing environments. This question also has conservation implications in the face of human induced rapid environmental change, including invasive species, habitat loss, and climate change. In response to new or changing environments, populations may evolve genetic changes across generations, and individuals may also respond via phenotypic plasticity within a generation. We can use experimental methods and model systems to increase our understanding of the way that genes and the environment interact to shape phenotypes. The Trinidadian guppy is a small freshwater fish that exhibits phenotypic plasticity as well as rapid evolution in response to changes in the environment, namely changes in the predator community. I used experimental introductions and common garden experiments to investigate plasticity and evolution of cerebral laterality, genitalia, foraging behavior, personality, and mating behavior in guppies.
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. Chris Kopack is the brains and brawn behind this research, and he has already learned a lot about how we can increase antipredator behavior in rainbow trout by exposing them to chemical cues of predation in the hatchery. Trout photo by Ari Koyama
How does gene flow affect local adaptation?
I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with some very bright minds at CSU that are tackling important questions about the effects of gene flow on local adaptation in the wild: Dr. Sarah Fitzpatrick, John Kronenberger, Dr. Chris Funk, Dr. Lisa Angeloni.
How can we keep girls in science?
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. To address this issue, summer camps focusing on STEM topics have been established specifically for female students, but there is limited research on the way that girls experience the camp, particularly how their relationship with science changes during the camp. 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 women in science. (collaborators: Kirsten Fetrow, Shannon Murphy, Robin Tinghitella, Jennifer Hoffman, and Quyen Hart) Photo credit
How does conducting and presenting scientific research affect self-confidence and interest in science careers?
I’m excited to continue to explore the relationship between authentic science, especially dissemination of research, and students’ self-confidence in their ability to conduct science as well as how this translates to interest in pursuing careers in science. My partner in this work is Katie Guilbert at Bella Romero Academy. I began this project with Lisa Angeloni and Cameron Ghalambor at Colorado State University and am continuing it with Shannon Murphy and Robin Tinghitella at the University of Denver.
Can we use inquiry approaches to improve evolution education?
I worked closely with a group of fabulous middle school science teachers and Dr. Cameron Ghalambor to develop and implement a week long program 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 am currently investigating the effectiveness of these kits and hope to explore benefits of kit-based teaching more broadly in future research.
I was also able to include this research question in my evolution course at DU (BIOL 3010). Students explored the use of inquiry approaches to teach evolution concepts by developing creative and engaging inquiry tools as their final project. Two of those projects were so impressive that we worked to submit them for publication.