My lab's research focuses broadly on the mechanisms, evolution, and consequences of mate choice. The heart of our research program is animal behavior, and we enjoy collaborating with other labs with complementary areas of specialization. The lab's main study system is natural hybrid zones of swordtail fish, centered at our CICHAZ research station, in the Sierra Madre Oriental of Hidalgo, Mexico.
Hybrids between Xiphophorus malinche and X. birchmanni represent a 'genomic collision' between two species with divergent suites of male traits and female preferences, and provide a terrific opportunity to understand both the genomic architecture underlying mate choice and the fitness consequences of novel sexual phenotypes in the wild. Ongoing research centers on a long-term study of natural and experimental hybrid populations, combining evolutionary genetics with morphological, behavioral, and neurobiological approaches to sexual communication. Social and environmental effects on chemical signaling also play a major role in this system. In conjunction with efforts to characterize the genetics of multivariate female mating preferences, we have developed and support anyFish, a new tool for the creation of synthetic animated stimuli for studying visual signals.
I am also involved in a collaborative project on mate choice, life-history evolution, and ecology in the annual killifish genus Austrolebias. Like swordtails, these remarkable little Uruguayan fishes lend themselves well to both field and laboratory work. They are restricted to seasonal bodies of water, where they grow rapidly, reproduce, and die within the space of a few winter months, leaving their eggs to estivate in diapause. These closed systems should allow us to gain a comprehensive picture of the biotic and abiotic environment, and, in concert with behavioral studies of mate choice, how sexual selection changes over space and time.