Research Interests

I am interested in understanding how and why complex traits and behaviors (especially mating systems and behaviors) evolve. My research focuses on the interactions between selection on traits and the genetic basis of those traits. This is a complicated topic, so I use a number of different methods to address them: studies of the traits and selection on those traits; genomic studies of signatures of selection; theoretical simulation studies, where I create imaginary populations and see what happens given a variety of initial conditions; and computational studies that make use of large datasets to identify broad patterns of evolution (Fig. 1).


Most of my empirical work has been on Syngnathids, the fish family comprised of seahorses, pipefishes, and seadragons. These fish are particularly interesting from a sexual selection point of view because they exhibit male pregnancy, in which the males care for the developing embryos (Fig. 2).


In many species, the females also have elaborate display traits to attract the males (Fig. 2, 3), and some of my research is involved in understanding how sexual selection shapes those traits.


Figure 3. Female traits in Syngnathus scovelli (top) and Nerophis ophidion (below), two species of pipefish that I have worked with.

For Biologists: My research strives to understand the impact of the genetic architecture of complex traits (the location of quantitative trait loci in the genome, their interactions, and their allelic effects) and the consequences of selection on the genome (outlined in Fig. 1), with a focus on sexual selection. My key objectives are to (1) understand the dynamics of behaviors, traits, and the breeding system to understand how selective processes impact a species; (2) characterize the genetic variation and heritability of traits of interest; and (3) assess how commonly patterns occur between populations and throughout lineages to provide insight into the generality of evolutionary processes. A unique feature of my research program is that I use a combination of theoretical, computational, and empirical approaches to address these objectives.


In addition to my research, I also have a citizen science project called Pipefish World, in which I encourage people who find syngnathids while at the beach or out fishing to send me a photograph and the location where the fish was found. I then add the photographs to the website and include everyone who participates in a twice-yearly newsletter. Check out the website for ways to get involved!