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.
(see Media and Outreach)
This year Carl Zimmer and I co-authored a revolutionary new textbook (Evolution: Making Sense of Life) designed from the start to be an enjoyable and engaging read. Evolution reflects our shared vision for what modern textbooks can be: exciting, relevant, concept-oriented, and gorgeously illustrated; a reading adventure designed to grab the imagination of students, showing them exactly why it is that evolution makes such brilliant sense of life. FREE CHAPTER DOWNLOAD This book is also being released as an interactive app for the ipad, available through the App Store.
In 2013 I will release another book, Animal Weapons: Insights from Nature’s Most Extravagant Structures (Henry Holt). Aimed primarily at non-academic audiences and illustrated lavishly by David Tuss, this book delves into the wonderful world of animals with crazy weapons. By peering into the forests and mountainsides where these animals lurk, and traipsing alongside the biologists who study them, this book weaves together the essential fabric of arms races: what they are, why and when they occur, and why they eventually come crashing down. Throughout, the lessons learned from animal extremes are applied to our own past, revealing astonishing parallels between the arms races of antelope, beetles, and flies, on the one hand, and galleons, knights, and governments, on the other.