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Current Research Areas

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, some of Lucas Cortes’s PhD. 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

The Evolution of Reproductive Isolation through Divergent Ecological Selection


This work is focused on ecology's role, through natural and sexual selection, in the evolution of reproductive isolation. Our main study organism is the threespine stickleback, in particular stream-resident and anadromous populations from a wide variety of locales.  Recently we have begun work on related issues in a North Carolina species, the banded killifish, and are expanding our genomic analyses involving that system.


Mckinnon & Rundle (2002) - Speciation in Nature: The Threespine Stickleback Model System

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

Color Pattern Evolution in Other Sticklebacks, including White Stickleback


We recently started a collaborative study of white stickleback with Anne Dalziel of St. Mary’s University. We are intrigued by the diversity of sticklebacks in the Canadian maritimes in addition to the white stickleback, and had an exciting first field season, focused on Minoti Asher’s MS thesis and the undergraduate research of Michelle Giron Morales and Bhakti Vahewala.



From Blouw and Hagen 1990

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, 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. We will try again soon, hopefully with NSF support (in collaboration with Heather Vance-Chalcraft), 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 am also involved in training graduate students in the mentoring of undergraduate researchers.



Photo Pat Harris

Sex, Death and Biodiversity in Ancient Lakes


I am under contract with MIT Press to write a book, aimed at a general audience, on the biodiversity of ancient lakes (the above title is very much provisional). 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.

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