FSU Biology - Ecology & Evolution
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Evolutionary and Ecological Genetics

While the big picture of evolution is easily appreciated through the phenotypes of organisms, the mechanics of evolutionary change appear in genes. At one level, understanding the short-term directions of evolution requires understanding how selection acts on key phenotypic characters and how genes control the variation in those characters. At another level, understanding broad patterns of character evolution requires understanding how genotypes mold phenotypes, which aspects of genetic and developmental networks are most pliable, and how the organization of the genes themselves and their patterns of expression can be molded by natural selection. And at yet another level, understanding patterns of genetic diversity in space and through time can help trace historic patterns in geographic range and dispersal and help us understand why species are where they are.


Elizabeth Brown

Most animals, including humans, need to sleep and eat. Being able to do so is critical for survival. What are the genetic and neural mechanisms that regulate these behaviors and how do they change with age? Our lab investigates these questions using the fruit fly, Drosophila, where genes are easy to manipulate. We use multiple approaches, including genetic screening, behavioral analysis, genomics, and brain imaging techniques in this accessible model system with the goal of uncovering fundamental principles that regulate behavior.

Scott Burgess

My research combines ecological and evolutionary principles to study the population biology of coastal marine invertebrates. One main focus is on the evolution of dispersal, reproductive strategies, and life histories. Another main focus is on the ecology and evolution of cryptic species of corals in the genus Pocillopora. We typically use some combination of field and laboratory experiments, population, quantitative, and molecular genetics, and mathematical modeling/theory.

Michael Cortez

I use mathematical models to explore how adaptation and species interactions drive patterns observed across communities. Much of my past work has focused on predator-prey, host-pathogen, and other exploiter-victim systems.

Emily H. DuVal

My research program explores the evolution of social behavior in animals, particularly birds, with an emphasis on cooperation, sexual selection, and reproductive strategies.

David Houle

am an evolutionary geneticist, currently studying the evolution of development and how it affects morphology. The biggest unknowns in biology are the paths through which genetic variation affects the phenotype, and in turn how the phenotype affects organismal fitness. I believe that we need to greatly increase our ability to measure phenotypic characteristics, the phenome, before we can understand this genotype-phenotype-fitness map.

Kimberly A. Hughes

Organisms are enormously genetically diverse. Even traits subject to strong natural selection, such as fertility, longevity, and reproductive behavior can vary greatly among individuals within a single population, and much of this variation can be heritable. I strive to understand why so much genetic variation persists for traits under strong selection and also to understand the consequences of this diversity for individuals, species, and communities.

Kathryn M. Jones

I am interested in the symbiotic interaction between nitrogen-fixing rhizobial bacteria and legume host plants, including: 1) How bacteria manipulate their environment during host plant invasion in such a way that the plant not only permits entry, but provides an invasion pathway for them; 2) Why the interactions of specific strains of Sinorhizobium with particular Medicago truncatula plant ecotypes are more productive than others; 3) How host plants direct resources to productive symbionts at the expense of unproductive symbionts (cheaters).

Emily C. Lemmon

The goal of my research program is to gain insight into the process of speciation in order to understand the origin of biodiversity. I employ an integrative approach to studying speciation, which involves several fields of biology, including behavioral ecology, evolutionary neuroscience, phylogenetics, population genetics, genomics, and ecology.

Don R. Levitan

I am interested in the ecology and evolution of marine invertebrates. My work examines the interactions between ecological processes, natural and sexual selection, and molecular evolution. I am particularly interested in how sperm availability and population density influence the evolution of gamete traits and reproductive behavior and the cascading effects of this selection on reproductive isolation and speciation.  I enjoy integrating field experiments and molecular studies with theory.

Austin R. Mast

My research program involves topics within the broadly defined area of biodiversity study. I am particularly interested in (1) the interplay of ecology and evolution that determines the form and function of plant life on Earth, (2) the use of biodiversity research specimens and digital information about them to bring that interplay into sharper focus, and (3) public engagement in the research to further science and STEM literacy goals.

Darin R. Rokyta

My research investigates the molecular and statistical properties of adaptive evolution. The overarching goal of my work is to develop a robust, quantitative model of adaptive evolution at the molecular level and the statistical methology to test the model predictions and assumptions.

Scott J. Steppan

I seek to understand the origin of biological diversity. In addition to reconstructing phylogenies, I take a comparative (phylogenetic) perspective on quantitative genetics, asking how the underlying genetic correlations among traits within species evolves and how that correlation structure itself may direct the course of evolutionary divergence among species.

David Thoms

Plant roots are analogous to the animal gut as both are important sites of nutrient acquisition and microbial activity. We use the plant model system, Arabidopsis thaliana, to study the role of innate immunity in establishing a healthy root microbiome. We use a combination of NextGen sequencing, microscopy, and genetics to study the mechanisms required for distinguishing between beneficial and pathogenic bacteria in a manner that modulates bacterial growth.

Joseph Travis

I am interested in how and why the features of animals, particularly freshwater fish and amphibians, vary from one population to another.  Variation among local populations of the same species represents the earliest stage in the adaptive generation of biodiversity and understanding that variation can give us insights into a variety of ecological and evolutionary processes that affect life histories, morphology, behavioral patterns, and even physiological responses.

Nora Underwood

I am a population biologist interested in the ecology and evolution of plant-insect interactions. My primary focus is on how genotypic and phenotypic variation among individuals affects the long-term spatial and temporal dynamics of populations.

Alice A. Winn

I study plant population biology, life-history evolution, and ecological genetics.

Department of Scientific Computing Faculty2

Alan Lemmon

I study phylogenetic inference and genomics.

Dennis Slice

I study all aspects of morphometric research, including theoretical morphometrics, the development of morphometric software, and the application of morphometric analysis to a number of problems.

1: Can mentor graduate students in the Department of Biological Science
2: Cannot mentor graduate students in the Department of Biological Science