Our research provides insights into the development and evolution of animal weapons...
such as the enormous horns and exaggerated mandibles of scarab beetles. We combine approaches from behavioral ecology, genetics, phylogenetics, and developmental biology to understand how evolution has shaped these bizarre structures. Current projects (in collaboration with Laura Corley-Lavine and Ian Dworkin) include an examination of how altered expression of appendage patterning genes contributes to species differences in the shape of horns, and how the insulin receptor (InR) pathway modulates the size of male weapons in response to the larval nutritional environment. In addition, in collaboration with Kazuo Kawano, Andrew Smith, Matt Paulsen, and David Hawks, we are generating a phylogeny for the rhinoceros beetles (Dynastinae) using next-generation sequencing. We will use this tree to reconstruct the evolution of exaggerated weapons in this rich, diverse, and stunning clade of huge, charismatic insects. Graduate students in this lab often develop their own systems, and current student research addresses a breadth of topics revolving around sexual selection, behavior, genetics, and evolution.
We actively communicate the excitement of evolutionary biology to broad audiences through books and the popular press, contributing to public understanding of animal diversity and morphological evolution.