How and why are males and females of the same species so different?
Males and females of the same species share most of the same genes. However, despite their shared genome, the traits and underlying genes that make a successful male are frequently not the same as those that make a successful female. This sets up a genomic and evolutionary tug-of-war between the sexes known as intralocus sexual conflict as natural and sexual selection pull males and females in different evolutionary directions. My current research is focused on this sexual conflict and ultimately on the larger questions it poses in evolutionary biology.
My ongoing work uses wild populations of brown anole lizards (Anolis sagrei) because of their extreme sex differences. I use islands as living laboratories to study evolutionary processes in the wild.
Intralocus sexual conflict
I am using mark-recapture methods and genetic assignment of parentage with GT-Seq to track the survival and reproductive success of more than 6,000 individual lizards across 4 generations in an island population of brown anole lizards. This will allow for a large scale test of many of the fundamental predictions of intralocus sexual conflict theory. Do families with high fitness males have low fitness daughters?
Comparing stress hormones in both sexes
Hormones play key roles in mediating the tradeoff between survival and reproduction. Stress hormones can inhibit reproduction and improve chances of survival during periods of stress. However, stress hormones can also be associated with successfully engaging in energetically costly reproductive behaviors. Our work found an acute increase in the stress hormone, Cortocosterone, during courtship for both male and female red spotted newts.
Costs of reproduction in both sexes
Costs or reproduction are rarely studied in both sexes at the same time. Sexual selection theory proposes that males suffer increased parasitism as a cost of expressing sexual signals. Life-history theory proposes that females suffer costs because of inherent trade-offs between reproduction and self-maintenance. Surgical elimination of reproduction in both sexes showed that both sexes pay similar costs of reproduction in terms of energy storage and parasitism.
I work with teachers and kids to push the limits for classroom science. The work of my students done in a Chicago Public School showed how female anoles choose nest sites and how those choices influence fitness traits.
I am currently co-advising Evolution Education teacher fellows Brandon Pope and Nick Kiriazis. Pope and his students are testing the effects of predators on the development of sexual dimorphism in mosquitos. Kiriazis and his students are examining repeatable individual differences in the behavior of cockroaches.