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Graduate Program: Research Areas

Concentration in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution (EBE)

This concentration includes studies in population biology, community ecology, animal behavior and evolutionary ecology. Work in this area integrates fieldwork with laboratory studies to identify key ecological patterns and investigate the mechanisms generating those patterns. These studies include work on plant and animal systems in both marine and terrestrial environments.
Suggested Program of Study and Appropriate Courses >

Faculty mentors accepting students in EBE:

Sara Lewis
Erik Dopman
Philip Starks
Benjamin Wolfe
Jan Pechenik
Elizabeth Crone
Michael Romero
Colin Orians
Michael Reed
Eric Tytell
Barry Trimmer

Additional faculty mentors: Francie Chew, George Ellmore

Lewis Laboratory
The Lewis laboratory studies behavior from an evolutionary perspective, and is particularly interested in the ecological context of sexual selection in natural populations. This work uses a variety of model organisms to examine how sex ratios, population density, and parental investment may alter the predicted patterns of courtship behavior and the relative intensity of sexual selection on males and females. Studies on fireflies and the flour beetle Tribolium explore how pre-copulatory and post-copulatory behaviors interact to determine overall reproductive success.

Erik Dopman
One of Science's greatest challenges is to understand the origins of biological diversity in nature. As pointed out by Ernst Mayr, biodiversity has both proximate (e.g., genetic) and ultimate (evolutionary) causes. The Dopman lab applies a unified conceptual framework to investigate both forms of causation through a combination of experimental and comparative studies, and by drawing on various approaches, including population genetics, genomics, bioinformatics, and molecular genetics. Although we focus on long-standing problems in evolutionary biology, we use modern tools and techniques to advance our research goals (e.g., DNA microarrays, next-generation sequencing).

Starks Laboratory
The Starks laboratory studies animal behavior from an evolutionary perspective, and focuses primarily on the adaptive significance of social behavior in insects. Research in the Starks Lab is multi-faceted: lab members engage in studies that are observational, experimental, and theoretical. In order to answer research questions, lab members use both field and laboratory techniques. Primary areas of interest relate to invasion biology, recognition systems, host-parasite interactions, communication, and the evolution of eusociality.

Wolfe Laboratory
Research in the Wolfe lab links ecological and evolutionary patterns in microbial communities with the molecular mechanisms that generate these patterns. Using tractable microbial communities from fermented foods, we address two broad research goals: 1) identify the molecular mechanisms that control the assembly and function of microbial communities and 2) determine how microbial species evolve within multi-species communities. Projects integrate experimental evolution, metagenomics, comparative genomics/transcriptomics, genome engineering, and in situ community reconstructions. Our work will help develop principles of microbial community assembly that can guide the design and manipulation of microbial communities in industry, medicine, and nature.

Pechenik Laboratory
Researchers in the Pechenik laboratory are generally concerned with the evolution of marine invertebrate reproductive patterns. We approach this issue by assessing the costs and benefits associated with the different patterns in a variety of species from many phyla, and by considering the mechanisms through which such patterns may evolve.

Romero Laboratory
Work in the Romero laboratory integrates several of these levels in examining the adaptive role of stress responses in wildlife populations. The experimental subjects are wild arctic birds and mammals, Galapagos Marine iguanas and captive starlings. This research consists of intimately intertwined laboratory and field studies in the areas of physiology, ecology, and neuroscience, all with the goal of increasing our comprehension of the causes and effects of stress.

Orians Laboratory
I am most interested in how plants defend themselves against herbivores or how plants exploit patchily available resources. Members of the Orians laboratory group integrate laboratory, greenhouse and field research to examine both the patterns and mechanisms of plant responses. This approach lends itself to working at different scales, such as at the chemical, physiological, or community level - any one of which might serve as the central focus of a project. Projects include the induction of tolerance and resistance traits in response to herbivory, patterns and consequences of differential tree responses to patchy soil nutrient availability, and effects of herbivory on carbon allocation to recalcitrant carbon pools.

Reed Laboratory
I am interested in a wide variety of conservation related research problems. Most of my research focuses on identify characteristics of species that put them at risk to human-caused threats, understanding why (or how) these characteristics put a species at risk, and to determining how best to reduce the risk. I have been working, in particular, on the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on extinction risk and population viability, and on the importance of animal behavior in extinction risk and conservation. Although I am primarily a "bird" person, some of my recent students worked (or work) on amphibians, moss, and butterflies. I have worked in forests and wetlands, evaluating habitat loss and fragmentation as well as the impacts of grazing, logging, and suburban sprawl on biodiversity.

Tytell Laboratory
Research in the Tytell laboratory focuses on understanding the neural control and biomechanics of locomotion in fishes. We aim to understand how neural circuits, body mechanics, fluid dynamics, and sensory systems work together to allow animals to move effectively through complex and unpredictable environments. The work is highly interdisciplinary, integrating neuroscience, sensory and muscle physiology, and functional morphology with quantitative, computational, and engineering techniques. We also use comparative techniques to understand the evolution of functional differences in locomotory performance in vertebrates.

Trimmer Laboratory
The Trimmer laboratory focuses on the role played by neurotransmitter receptors and their associated cellular effects in identified motoneurons of the insect Manduca sexta. The general aim of this research is to identify biochemical and molecular processes that underlie simple behaviors. Although we are interested in many neurotransmitter systems, our present research focuses on the different classes of receptors for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) and on the neurotransmitter gas nitric oxide (NO). We are also studying how caterpillars walk and coordinate movements so that we can understand the neural control of soft-bodied locomotion. This work might eventually be used to design a new type of flexible robot.

Chew Research Group
Dr. Chew's interests are in insect-plant interactions, particularly ecological and chemical aspects of interactions between native insects and weedy introduced plants, and the evolution of various butterfly groups. Previous graduate students have worked on these questions or have forged their own collaborations with The Nature Conservancy and other interest groups. She is also the Director of the American Studies Program.

Ellmore Laboratory
The Ellmore laboratory focuses on plant development and growth strategies in novel environments. Responses of germination, seedling establishment, and root growth to environmental variations, especially those associated with wetlands and tropical sites.

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