Douglas J. Emlen
How quickly do traits change under natural selection? Which traits can respond to selection, and which cannot? What underlying factors help to determine the way that traits evolve? My research focuses on the intersection of development and evolution, to answer fundamental questions about evolutionary change. My interests include the evolution of form and body proportions, and the evolution of sexual dimorphism.The Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) are a beautiful, diverse, and fascinating group of animals in which to answer these questions, though I have worked on a variety of insect and vertebrate systems in the past.
Along with my own research, I also work to support and coordinate lab activities and outreach, and share my excitement about all things Evo and Devo with students through teaching a variety of courses within the Division of Biological Sciences.
My interests lie in the evolution of cooperation and conflict at all levels of biological organization. I have worked on how genetic relatedness structures group formation in plains zebras and European mound-building mice (Mus spicilegus), as well as mobbing behaviour and the genetic underpinnings of egg mimicry in evolutionary arms races between brood parasitic birds and their hosts.
I also enjoy writing and giving talks about biology (and the history of evolution) to general audiences and illustrating both with sketches and photographs.
My passion is to understand the proximate and ultimate causes (the “how” and “why”) of organismal adaptation. Toward this end, my research integrates lab and field experiments to: 1) characterize the molecular genetic basis of naturally selected traits, and 2) measure the fitness consequences of adaptive mutations. Because of the breadth of this research program, I have previously focused on two systems with substantial ecological and genetic resources as research models—deer mice (genus Peromyscus) and threespine sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus). For my PhD, I examined the evolution, genetics and ecology of natural burrow variation in deer mice. I then did a three-year project on stickleback, where I primarily focused on the genetic and immunological basis of coevolution between this fish host and its tapeworm parasite, Schistocephalus solidus.
However, I am very excited to extend the modern genetic toolkit to ask questions in practically any organism. I joined the Emlen Lab in Sept 2015 to tackle two questions: 1) What is the genetic and developmental basis for giant horns in male rhinoceros beetles (specifically in Trypoxylus dichotomus)?, and 2) Why do some populations of this species have small horns?
I joined the Emlen Lab in Spring 2012 after completing a BSc in Zoology at University College Cork, Ireland. I am currently working on a phylogeny for the Dynastidae using next generation sequencing techniques. This will be part of a greater project building a phylogeny for the Scarabaeoidea. I am excited to be learning methods of DNA extraction, library prep and data analysis in the course of completing this project.
Devin O' Brien
I joined the Emlen lab in the fall of 2013 after completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Connecticut. My interests lie in the evolution and development of extreme morphology where I explore how the costs of sexually selected weapons, and their intrinsic reproductive benefits, shape animal behavior and mating systems.
I am currently working on a wild population of frog legged leaf beetles (Sagra femorata), in Matsusaka, Japan, studying the relationship between weapon size and individual fitness. While here in Montana, I am working to further uncover the developmental underpinnings of exaggerated morphologies through RNAi and RNAseq, while exploring the biomechanical limits of animal weapons.
Jill del Sol
I joined the Emlen lab in fall 2015 after completing my undergrad at Hendrix College in Arkansas. I've always been fascinated by the world of sexually selected traits, among which are some of the most stunning colors, behaviors, and morphologies in the animal kingdom. I am specifically interested in how the interplay of ecological context, mating systems, and sexual competition promotes the exaggeration and diversification of animal weapons.
I conduct behavioral fieldwork, measuring fighting and mating behavior and selection on horns of subspecies of the Asian rhinoceros beetle (Trypoxylus dichotomus). Male horns vary in relative size across their range in southern Asia, making this an excellent system to study the drivers of weapon divergence. This past summer I studied populations on the islands of Taiwan and Yakushima and will continue by conducting selection experiments in Honshu and studying selection in additional populations. Motivated undergrads interested in conducting independent research or being a field assistant are strongly encouraged to contact me!
I started my PhD in the Emlen lab in the fall 2016 after completing a Master’s degree at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France. During my MSc, I spent a semester in the lab carrying out a project with Devin O’Brien dealing with the biomechanics and physiology of male leg weapons in the leaf-footed bug (Narnia femorata) and the frog legged beetle (Sagra femorata). I am specifically interested in the evolution of mating systems and sexually selected traits, as well as the evolution of defenses against predators.
While in Montana, I plan on working on the evolution of antipredator defenses in stick and leaf insects (Order: Phasmatodea). Phasmids are very charismatic herbivorous insects using an astonishing diversity of strategies to avoid being eaten ranging from crypsis to warning signals. I aim at studying the diversification of these strategies across the phylogeny of Phasmatodea as well as studying the ecology of specific model systems using various defenses. I notably plan on studying the evolutionary ecology of the thorny devil stick insects (Eurycantha calcarata) that use their sexually dimorphic and spiny hind legs to defend themselves.
Alison Perkins' interests lie at the intersection of media and science education. She holds a MS in Wildlife Biology, a MA in Radio-Television Production, and a PhD in Forestry and Conservation from The University of Montana. She has worked to develop curricula to enhance ecology and evolution education for K-12 and informal science education opportunities that incorporate the philosophical nature of science. Most recently, she brought this teaching approach to a graduate course in environmental science journalism, embedding journalism students into research labs to immerse them in the process of science. Her research interests include evolution education, how people learn about science, and sources of evolutionary knowledge (especially media). Perkins also is an independent television producer with Montana PBS, where she is actively pursuing productions that enhance understanding of evolution, ecology, and the environment. She won a national award from the Parents' Choice Foundation for a children's science television program, as well as the national Cine Golden Eagle Award and regional Emmy awards for her work on historical documentaries.
Natural Science Illustrator
As a graduate from the University of Montana David Tuss has been working with the Emlen Lab and it’s associates since 2006. Specializing in Black & White illustration he works with clients to create one of a kind visualizations for academic publications and research. With a background in Natural Science and the Arts, David aspires to bring to life the natural world through his illustrations.
I joined the lab in spring 2016 as an REU intern working with Jill del Sol. We studied the conditions that cause the evolution of shorter horns among rhinoceros beetles in Taiwan and Japan, and I am currently conducting research on courtship rituals in lab populations of rhinoceros beetles.
I am a senior double majoring in Ecology and Organismal Biology and Environmental Studies. I am fascinated in sustainable agriculture and native pollination ecology. I joined the lab in fall of 2015 and spent spring of 2016 conducting fieldwork in Patagonia, Argentina where I studied the impact of invasive bumblebee Bombus terrestris on the historic pollination system of native shrub F. magellanica, native bumblebee Bombus dahlbomii, and native hummingbird, Sephanoides sephanoides. I am currently working with Devin O’Brien on my senior honors thesis.