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Current Projects

The Evolution of Sexual Dimorphism and Female Display Traits


In the course of another project we noticed that many female sticklebacks at one site had conspicuous red throats, and we became interested in the evolution of such traits. This work, currently our main project for students, has involved behavioral experiments on mate choice; hormones; color and behavior; QTL analyses (part of Lengxob Yong’s PhD); studies of gene expression; and currently a large GWAS study. This project has also morphed into a more integrative study of stickleback color pattern dimorphism, with Chris Anderson now looking at the function of pelvic spine coloration and the histology of color pattern divergence and convergence.

Yong et al. (2015) - Intrasexual competition and throat color evolution in female three-spined stickleback

Our Ancient Lakes: A Natural History


I am finalizing a book with MIT Press, aimed at a general audience, on the biodiversity of ancient lakes. I care deeply about this project because of my concerns about the continuing degradation of these remarkable systems. I want to tell as many people as I can about the wonders of these underappreciated hotspots of endemism and diversity, and what they are teaching us about evolution. It can be pre-ordered now (even from Target!) and the cover should be posted soon.

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Color Pattern Evolution Across the Sticklebacks


We are intrigued by the diversity of sticklebacks in the Canadian maritimes and have been implementing new methods of UV-Vis image analysis, in a comparative study that has begun with Fourspine stickleback, Apeltes quadracus. Some of this work is in collaboration with Anne Dalziel of St. Mary’s University. BS student Kyle Ifill (here on left) has been very involved with this project, with some NSF REU support.


Inquiry, Travel Study and Field Intensives in 1st Year Biology


I have been involved in working to advance science pedagogy since I was funded by NSF’s CCLI program some years ago. Lately this has involved collaborations (with Pat Harris and Heather Vance-Chalcraft, ECU) on field-intensive travel-study versions of Introductory Biology laboratories, which we planned to make international with a spring break offering in Costa Rica--but COVID-19 shut us down. This year we will finally make the trip, and in preparation set up tools like this one for learning to identify Costa Rica Heliconius. Here is one for Eastern NC frogs and toads. I have also been involved in training graduate students in the mentoring of undergraduate researchers and in helping students learn local natural history even through lecture sections of Intro Bio.



Photo Pat Harris

Color Polymorphism Maintenance and Speciation


Our empirical work on the maintenance of color polymorphisms and their potential contribution to speciation has focused mainly on the telmatherinid fishes of Sulawesi's Malili Lakes (Indonesia). I feel particularly connected to this place because I first started traveling there as a teenager, to visit two of my uncles who were working at a Canadian mine in the area. I have also been involved in conservation efforts there. Suzanne Gray did a very nice Ph.D. on this system with Larry Dill and myself as her co-advisors. We are not currently collecting data in Indonesia but hope to return, and synthetic work continues.


Gray & McKinnon (2007) - Linking Color Polymorphism Maintenance and Speciation

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