Research Interests

Genome evolution

Natural variation in genome size across and within species

Satellite DNA evolution across and within species

Systems examined: Fireflies and Drosophila

Signal evolution in fireflies

Animals use signals to elicit reactions from other individuals that will enhance their own survival and reproduction, for example territorial behavior or alarm calls. Signals involved in mating are perhaps the most important signals because they directly relate to whether an organism will have the opportunity to mate and reproduce. How and why new mating signals arise and how they spread through a population remain open fields of research in evolutionary biology.

Fireflies, in the beetle family Lampyridae, offer an ideal system to study signal evolution because of their conspicuous and highly variable sexual signals. With over 2000 species worldwide, fireflies exhibit lighted signals ranging from simple glows to complex flashes, as well as non-lighted long-distance pheromone signals. Aside from differing in pattern, lighted signals also differ in color and range from blue/green to orange. Genes are known that govern light emission color (luciferase) and visual receptor sensitivity (opsins). My research seeks to examine signal evolution by investigating genes directly underlying both signaling and reception traits.

The firefly genome project

In collaboration with Megan Behringer (Indiana University), Seth Bybee (BYU), Tim Fallon (MIT), Amanda Larracuente (Rochester), Sara Lewis (Tufts), Gavin Martin (BYU), and Jing-Ke Weng (MIT).

Photo credit: Geoff Giller

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