Professor and Author
Douglas J. Emlen
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Annika R Duke
Insects are one of the most widely miss-understood animals. Apart from the fear and loathing that many people have for insects many more people simply don’t realize how many amazing attributes insects have. I had the opportunity to learn just how remarkable insects can be when I took two courses from Doug Emlen my Senior year in college. Doug’s passion for insect research is definitely contagious and by the end of the courses I wanted to learn more! I started working for Doug as a Research Assistant in the spring of 2006. In the beginning I was cleaning storage rooms and organizing boxes of dead insects but I quickly became involved in research when he began work on the Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle. I worked for the next four years as a research assistant; raising a colony beetles, studying their development and investigating their behavior. I became a Lab Manager in 2009. As the Lab Manager I have maintained research organisms, led numerous projects and developed an extensive OUTREACH program. My desire to teach children and the community about the importance of insects in our ecosystems and our lives and to inspire peoples interest in research has driven me to participate in numerous community and school events, summer camps and even shows for the local newspaper.Before I worked for Doug I learned the ropes of field and lab work in the Fungal Ecology Lab at the University of Montana under Professor Matthias Rillig. For five years I studied Arbuscular Mycorrhizal (AMF) interactions with plants and studied the soil protein glomalin.
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One of the fundamental, and most exciting questions for evolutionary biologists is explaining the incredible amount of morphological variation that is found among organisms. My dissertation focuses on the evolution and diversification of animal weapons, and specifically, how the functional consequences of different horn types may have shaped the evolution of weapons among rhinoceros beetle species. I explore the hypothesis that the different sizes, shapes, and architectures of horns in rhinoceros beetles may reflect the functional and mechanical constraints on different weapon designs. That is, selection to minimize the functional costs of carrying and producing horns may explain why beetles living in different habitats have different horn morphologies; and selection to maximize the function of horns, or how well horns perform during combat, may help explain why beetles that have different fighting tactics, or that fight on different substrates have different types of horns. I hope to explore how mechanical and functional constraints have influenced the evolution of weapon morphology among rhinoceros beetles in order to better understand the diversity of some of Nature’s most elaborate body forms.
I joined the Emlen Lab in Spring 2012 after completing a BSc in Zoology at University College Cork, Ireland. I spent the 3rd year of my undergrad degree on exchange at the University of Montana, during which time I met Doug and discovered an interest in sexual selection, mating strategies and sperm competition among other areas. Although these were the initial areas of interest that drew me to the Emlen Lab, since arriving I have become drawn into the fascinating world of evo-devo. I am still at the preliminary stage of deciding on a project and have enjoyed exploring the evo-devo literature to date.
In addition to the above interests, 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.
Lab Associates and Collaborators
Cerisse E. Allen
Evolutionary genetics and constraints on the evolutionary process
Evo-devo of butterfly eyespot evolution and wing morphology
Evolution of sexual dimorphism
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
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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.
My involvement in the Emlen lab began in the fall of 2010. Initially, I worked with rhinoceros beetles, Trypoxylus dichotomus, where I was involved in embryo dissections and embryo staining for distalis (Dll) gene (a transcription factor that we believed may be involved in the outgrowth of horns at the embryonic stage). I also helped with beetle habitat maintenance, and limb measurements.In the spring of 2011, under the mentorship of Jennifer Smith and Dr. Emlen and with a grant awarded by MILES, I pursued an independent undergraduate research project regarding the effects of an invasive species, spotted knapweed, on a native Dictyna spider prey populations in western Montana. This led to another research project looking at the affect of Dictyna spider population explosions on the abundance of a parasitoid wasp, Catolaccus, that has been known to parasitize Dictyna spider egg sacs. Outside of my interests in evolutionary processes and invasive species, I am also quite fascinated by human physiology. Currently, I am working as an EMT-B for a private ambulance company, Missoula Emergency Services Inc.
This is my fourth year in undergrad studies for a Biology major and mathematics minor. I am currently working under Cerisse Allen, on the butterfly species, Bicyclus. I am identifying landmarks along their wings using the computer software ImageJ, which will be compared to determine possible genetically linked traits. This summer I am also working in the McCutcheon lab on a NSF grant trying to figure out genomic libraries for fungi collected from pine beetles. I also spend time in Art Woods’ lab where I'm testing the effects of varying atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on egg pH, viability and hatch rate. Fun fact: I have been enamored with reptiles since I was 10, and currently have 5 pythons in my house, along with a turtle and a rat.
In spring 2011 I attended a class on Behavior and Evolution taught by Erin McCullough and TA’d by Jennifer Smith. After completing this class I received an opportunity to participate in the field work being conducted by Jennifer for the summer. Starting in May we began by cutting knapweed stems and transplanting them to the research sites. The object of the study was to find out how the growth of knapweed affected the Dictina spider population. I assisted with setting up 50x50 meter treatment plots alongside the control plots. Throughout the study we would survey the sites for spider abundance, prey items and types of substrate they occupied. All of this data would be brought back to the lab and entered into Excel format for future use. In September of 2011, I began helping Erin McCullough with her study of rhinoceros beetles. I used Adobe Photoshop to overlay images of the beetles with and without horns. I then opened these images in Image J to find the center of mass. The idea was to use this data to ascertain whether the large beetle horns had an affect on their flying behavior. After completing my work for both Jennifer and Erin I stayed in the lab and participated in weekly lab discussions of current research and published scientific papers. This lasted from January of 2012 to May. Spending time in Doug Emlan’s lab has given me a great appreciation for the time and effort it takes to conduct scientific studies and has helped me greatly with my future goals in continuing my education in the scientific field.
Demitra worked for the Emlen Lab spring semester of 2012. She developed a project looking at insect vision in the beetle, Trypoxylus dichotomus. Demitra used the dissecting scope to search for sex differences in eye morphology by assessing eye size and facet (ommatidia) number. The next step of her project was to build chambers for the beetles in which she could conduct visual stimulus experiments. It is known that beetles can detect light and cannot see the color red, but Demitra’s project delved much deeper into a better understanding of the limits of Trypoxylus’ eyesight. She was awarded a 3000 dollar RUE stipend from the University of Montana Institute on Ecosystems. Demitra is currently working as a Mountain Lakes Intern for the Fish Wildlife and Parks Service, studying fish populations in alpine lakes. She will return to the Emlen lab in the fall to continue her research on Insect Vision.
Paul Weingarden participated in the Emlen Lab from winter 2011 until his undergraduate graduation in spring of 2012. For his first project in the lab, he performed morphometric analysis on the wings of Trypoxylus dichotomus. At the beginning of his final year of undergrad, he began a study on the microscopic topography of T. dichotomus horns. Using video footage collected in Taiwan from Erin McCullough, he quantified male fighting behavior to determine which areas of the horns were used more often than others. He then examined these horns with scanning electron microscopy to view the sensory structures and surface details at this scale. After graduation, Paul spent his summer as a field assistant for Lund University studying the mating behavior of Calopteryx splendens.
I began working as a research specialist with Doug Emlen when he first arrived at the University of MT and worked in the lab for seven years. When I first met Doug, I was interested in genetics but had given little thought to insects. However, that quickly changed as I learned more about our research organism and participated in Doug’s entomology and insect behavior courses. Teachers frequently called our lab to request presentations on insects, which furthered my interest in education as well as taught me that insects are awesome teaching assistants – they are abundant and diverse enough that it seemed no matter which ecological or biological concept I wished to teach, I could find an insect to serve as a model. In 2006 I decided to combine my interest in science, entomology and education and return to school to get a master’s degree in museum exhibit design and curriculum development with the goal of opening a tropical butterfly house and invertebrate zoo in Missoula. In 2009 I founded the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium and currently serve as the Executive Director.
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I am Inupiaq and Polish American from the Bering Straits region of Alaska, and currently finishing my nursing degree at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. I work with the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies as a Research Associate studying various issues related to the health and wellness of northern populations. I’m particularly interested in the well-being of Alaska Native and American Indian people, as well as our population as a whole nation. After studying the viral life cycle of HIV with the Lodmell lab at the University of Montana as an undergraduate research fellow, I was equally fortunate to work with the Emlen lab studying the genetic mechanism underlying nutrient allocation for horn development in the Onthophagus species. I enjoyed rearing both dung and rhinoceros beetles, and discovering the developmental mechanisms behind body patterning. This invaluable experience has shaped the way I view growth and development, and am inspired by the work this lab does!
I received a B.A. in Biology and Psychology from Wake Forest University and a M.S. in Organismal Biology and Ecology in the Emlen lab at the University of Montana. While at the University of Montana, I received funding from a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to study the use of weapons in intrasexual competition over females and resources. My study system was the horned beetle Trypoxylus dichotomus, which I used to compare selection on male horns between populations in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, I am the Program Coordinator for StreamTeam, a volunteer-driven watershed restoration program in Vancouver, Washington.
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I worked with Doug from 2000-2006 on the tradeoffs associated with leg regeneration in stick insects. Using a suite of different species, we studied how the investment into a leg for a second time can affect the growth of other structures. Some of the most exciting results were documenting just how common leg regeneration is in the wild (field sites in Australia) and how the tradeoffs associated with regeneration differ based on morphology (lab work with a winged and wingless species). After Montana I went Austin, Texas where I did two post-docs: a teaching post-doc at St. Edward's University and a research post-doc with Molly Cummings at The University of Texas. I'm currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Portland studying critters of the intertidal zone; in addition to working with a plethora of animals capable of appendage loss and regeneration, undergraduates and I ask and answer fun questions in the realms of sexual selection and camouflage.
Christine W. Miller
Dr. Christine W. Miller received a B.A. in Biology from Wesleyan University. From there she went on to conduct research in Montana, Georgia, Washington, Central America,and Africa. She received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Epscor Fellowship, and multiple awards from the Smithsonian Institution for her Ph.D. research at the University of Montana. While at the University of Montana she worked with Dr. Douglas Emlen on environmental effects on sexual selection using a tropical insect species. Her research for her Ph.D. was conducted at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Dr. Miller finished her Ph.D. in 2007 and immediately began a faculty position at the University of Florida. In 2009 achieved a $325,394 National Science Foundation grant for a large project entitled "Selection in heterogeneous environments, a multi-trait perspective". Besides her love of research, Dr. Miller also values training students in research. She has mentored over 40 students and recent graduates in her laboratory. Her research spans the topics of evolutionary biology, ecology, and behavior.
My general interests include ecology, behavior, development, and evolution. Currently, the research topics that most interest me can be seen as two sides of a coin: (1) how do different traits interact developmentally and functionally to influence fitness; and (2) how different selective pressures interact to affect the diversification and evolution of traits, and ultimately affect speciation?
Undergraduate and Post-Baccalaureate Researchers
Jessica worked in the Emlen lab as an undergraduate researcher in 2009. She was involved in many projects including using antibodies to stain developing horns in rhinoceros beetle larvae to look at the expression of patterning genes. After graduation Jessica went on to attend medical school at The University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences in the Medical Doctorate program. During her residency, Jessica plans to practice either in Family medicine or Internal Medicine.
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My work in the Emlen lab focused on the developmental mechanisms that underlie horn dimorphism in beetles. I worked to help generate methods for visualizing gene expression in rhinoceros beetle horn primordia to understand how this weapon is built, and how his process differs between between individual beetles with differently sized horns. In addition, although the horn primordia does not morphologically form until late larval stages (many months after egg-laying in some species!), I also worked on very early embryos, just days after egg-laying, to understand how the horn primoridia is initially specifiedin the earliest stages of development.
After leaving the Emlen lab, Ben joined Dr. Cassandra Extavour's lab at Harvard University where he is studying the embryonic specification of germ cells in insects. In his spare time, Ben rants about his favorite scientific papers on the website Sick Papes.
Olga Helmy caught the nature “bug” as a young girl growing up in Southern Illinois. Because she spent most of her free time in the Shawnee National Forest and surrounding hills, she developed an appreciation for wild places that bordered on going feral. She followed this appreciation to college where she studied zoology and then onto graduate school where she studied first insect behavior and later aquatic ecology. Olga’s non-biological interests stray towards creative pursuits in writing, travel and art. She has traveled and worked in Africa, Asia and in the Rocky Mountains of Western North America, where in spite of frequent forays abroad, she now feels at home. Olga lives in Vancouver, BC with her husband, Dr. Jedediah Brodie and their young son.
My research interests and background have focused broadly on the ecology of invasive species. As an undergraduate in 2010, I worked as an assistant in the Emlen lab with Jennifer Smith, a doctoral student investigating the effects of spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe) invasions on the behavior and evolution of spiders in the genus Dictyna. Working under the hypothesis that the invaded landscapes will facilitate larger web size and lead to a higher rate of prey capture, we tested the idea that the newly available substrate will have positive effects on fitness by releasing the spiders from nutritional constraints that existed in native landscapes, ultimately leading to the rapid evolution of larger body size in the genus. We sampled populations in the field, reared multiple generations in microcosm, and quantified morphological variation in the lab. My work in the Emlen lab and the courses I took as an undergraduate from Dr. Emlen, as well as my other research experiences in the world of ecology and evolutionary biology, have helped shape the questions I hope to pursue as a graduate student in the near future.
Broadly my interests include the role of sociability, behavioralflexibility and social learning in the development and evolution ofbehavior. As an undergraduate at the University of Montana I workedunder Alex Trillo looking at courtship behavior in acromis sparsabeetles. I then received a master’s degree at Utrecht University underDr. Simon Reader investigating social learning strategies in guppies(Poecilia reticulate). I now am a PhD student at Indiana Universityworking with Dr. Meredith West and Dr. Andrew King researching therole of social experience and consistent individual differences in theontogeny of reproductive competence in a brood parasite, theBrown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater).
Tess joined the lab as an undergraduate and a volunteer in autumn of 2009. She assisted in collecting images of the Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle through a dissecting scope. The photos were used to measure sex differences in the physical morphology of the species. Following graduation, she became a field technician for Jennifer Smith. Tess assisted in the collection of data and specimens for Smith's research on the nesting behavior of Dictyna spiders. After leaving her generous mentor's at the Emlen lab, Tess continued to work as a field technician with various species across the country. Currently, she is pursuing a Doctorate in Physical Therapy.
Broadly, my interests lie in how wildlife, landscapes, and organisms interact. I’m drawn to animal ecology and behavior, and the ways in which interactions shape individual and demographic-level phenomena. I plan to work at the interface of wildlife populations and human communities in an effort to bridge the gap between science and the general public. As an undergraduate I worked in the Emlen Lab on an ongoing research project exploring the genetic mechanisms that underlie horn development in rhinoceros beetles. My time in the Emlen Lab provided me with insight into the sphere of science and academia and helped me to focus my interests and move forward. I’m currently a master’s student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln working with Dr. Joseph Fontaine researching the effects of perceived predation risk on prey behavior, physiology and reproductive investment.
Before coming to the Emlen Lab, I worked for the Smithsonian of Natural History in Washington DC. At the Smithsonian I worked at the Orkin Insect Zoo where I dealt largely with insect husbandry and teaching the public about invertebrates. Later, I went to work at the Invertebrate Zoo at the National Zoo in Washington DC where I also worked in Insect husbandry, but also cared for invertebrates ranging from aquatic predacious diving beetles to a giant pacific octopus, who once pulled me off of a ladder! In Arizona I assisted with developing the entomology courses at Arizona Western College in Yuma, AZ. I began to work with Dr. Ian Watkinson and Dr. Tim Whittier and began a specialty in taxonomy, primarily with Coleoptera. I also spent four years working for the Department of Agriculture in Arizona and Montana in insect identification.Moving to Montana in 2007, I began work at the Emlen Lab as a caretaker for the rhinoceros beetles, Allomyrina dichotoma, Dr. Emlen researches. I helped to make specific food sources for the larvae and kept detailed records of breeding pairs and offspring. I continue to help in identifications of insects brought in by students and the public. I am currently employed at Rhithron Ass. Inc., which specialized in aquatic bioassessment services. I am employed as a benthic macroinvertebrate taxonomist which involves the identification of invertebrates ranging from copepods, mussels, aquatic insects, mites, and terrestrials. For the last three years I have assisted Annika Duke in teaching a summer educational camp called MOLLI on the importance of edible insects.
Bret Robinson was an undergraduate assistant lab member from 2009 to 2010. He aided in a dietary developmental husbandry experiment with the species of Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle, Trypoxylus dichotoma. He also contributed to developmental gene staining of the Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle larvae. He then left the lab and went to Trinidad and Tobago for tropical field research under PhD candidate Sarah Fitzpatrick of Colorado State University. He spent a year living and working on a hybrid evolution guppy, Poecilia reticulata project. Also, while in Trinidad he worked with the Eco-Evolution Guppy Mark Recapture Project under Dr. David Reznik from the University of California at Riverside. This fall, he will be attending San Jose State University for his Masters working under Dr. Jeff Honda. He is beginning an internship with the Santa Clara County Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California.