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Graduate Program: Research Areas

Concentration in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution (EBE)

Faculty, post-docs, and graduate students in this concentration work on diverse aspects of ecology, behavior and evolution, including adaptation, animal movement and habitat selection, sexual selection, social behavior, community assembly, stress, insect-plant interactions, speciation, life history evolution, metamorphosis, and wildlife management. 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, microbial, 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
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 environmental influences on the development and behavior of marine invertebrates. Current projects include control of metamorphosis during development, impact of ocean acidification and other stresses on development and metamorphosis, delayed ("latent") effects of exposure to stresses during development and the underlying molecular basis for those effects, reproductive and physiological adaptations for development under thermal stress, and environmental causes of yearly variation in shell quality for marine hermit crabs.

Crone Laboratory
Our research falls broadly in the area of population ecology, with emphasis on two overarching themes. The first is using theoretical ecology to improve conservation, restoration and wildlife management. Applied ecologists usually need to design management strategies in the absence of complete information about causes of the problems they need to manage. Ecological theory - broadly defined as different ideas about how systems work - provides a context for outlining what factors might be important, and under what circumstances they are most likely to matter. The second theme is uniting natural history and theoretical population ecology. By this we do not mean that population models should include all details of life history and basic biology. The goal of a model is to simplify systems by capturing the key processes and interactions that determine a particular response. Therefore, the question is under which conditions simplified models capture the essence of more complicated systems, in spite of being incorrect, and under which the differences between natural history and model assumptions lead to predictions that differ systematically from those of simple models.

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
Dr. Trimmer is interested in the control of locomotion and the neural processes that organize sensory and motor information. He is the head of two integrated research labs — the Neuromechanics Laboratory uses an insect (the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta) as its primary model system because it has a brain with fewer neurons and their activity can be monitored in freely moving animals and in isolated parts of the central nervous system. Manduca is used to identify how soft animals control their movements, looking at the neural active underlying crawling and defensive striking. This work also examine how a caterpillar "feels", what does it sense when it moves around in the world? The Biomimetic Devices Laboratory focuses on applying biological principles in the design, fabrication and control of new types of machines, including soft robots. These robots can be 3D-printed and used to test ideas about locomotion control and structural design. One of our long-term goals is to "grow" robotic devices using a combination of biosynthetic materials, cellular modulation, and tissue engineering. We are exploring how invertebrate cell culture can be used to structure muscles and supporting tissues on scaffolds of biomaterials.

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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