Undergraduate Research & Scholarships

Julia Dunker SURF SMART

The Downstream Effects of Novelty: Did the Evolution of Scale-Eating Affect Mate Preferences in a Radiation of Bahamian Pupfish?

Novel traits (i.e. new traits or behaviors that allow organisms to perform a new function) have long fascinated biologists. Their evolutionary origins, however, are poorly understood and may involve changes in multiple behaviors and traits. The effects of these changes do not occur in a vacuum and may have downstream effects on other processessuch as the formation of reproductive barriers between groups. This research investigates the relationship between the evolution of novel traits and the formation of reproductive barriers using the scale-eating pupfish. Scale-eating is an example of a novel diet, and involves changes in multiple traits such as aggression, feeding behavior, and jaw morphology. Whether these changes affect the formation of reproductive barriers (i.e. mate preference) between scale-eating pupfish and other pupfish species is still unknown.

Message To Sponsor

I would like to thank the Johnson Fund for sponsoring my summer research fellowship. This summer I faced many research challenges, especially coding with the language R, but I learned how to apply critical thinking and problem-solving to coding. When I am faced with an academic challenge in the future, I will approach the problems from various perspectives and ask for support when needed. My SURF experience has inspired me to consider a career in research because the process of integrating many methods in an attempt to understand more about a particular organism or concept is fascinating. My confidence in my abilities as a researcher is a product of my experience tackling problems and seeking creative solutions throughout the summer. I would like to extend my gratitude to the Johnson Fund for the generous donation that gave me the opportunity to investigate how pupfish evolved in exciting ways.
Major: Undeclared
Mentor: Michelle St. John
Sponsor: Anonymous
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