While I am interested in diverse topics in evolutionary ecology, the main focus of research in my lab currently addresses how natural and sexual selection interact during adaptation, and how both processes contribute to phenotypic divergence and speciation. Addressing such questions requires a comprehensive understanding of how sexual selection operates within populations and how it varies in different environments (e.g., social, geographical, natural). Our approach is primarily empirical and utilizes experimental evolution and behavioural assays to conduct manipulative, direct tests of various key evolutionary hypotheses. Because the majority of sexual selection theory has quantitative genetic foundations, much of our work is also conducted within a quantitative genetic framework.
Via ongoing collaborations with Steve Chenoweth and Mark Blows at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, I am also interested in understanding how the genetic basis of complex traits under natural and sexual selection affects their evolution, and how selection feeds back to alter the genetic basis of these traits. Examples of this work includes ongoing experiments examining the evolution of sexual dimorphism in sexual display traits, geographic variation in sexual selection among natural populations, and the evolution of indirect genetic effects of mating on sexual display traits.
The majority of this research uses the Australian fruit fly, Drosophila serrata. This species is an ideal model organisms for addressing questions concerning sexual selection because mate choice and species recognition are well understood and both depend on a suite of contact pheromones composed of long-chain hydrocarbons found on the cuticles of the flies. We use gas chromatography to obtain quantitative and precise measurements of the relative amounts of these different hydrocarbons; these hydrocarbons also evolve rapidly when mechanisms of evolution, such as natural or sexual selection, are manipulated in the lab.