FSU Biology - Faculty Research Interests - Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Department of Biological Science

at Florida State University

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

  • Scott Burgess
    My research combines ecological and evolutionary principles to study the population biology of coastal marine invertebrates (such as corals, bryozoans, and gastropods). Topics studied include larval dispersal, population connectivity, population dynamics, life history evolution, adaptive phenotypic plasticity, maternal effects, and local adaptation. I typically use some combination of field and laboratory experiments, population and quantitative genetics approaches, and mathematical modeling.

  • Elizabeth Brown
    All 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 underlie these behaviors and how do they change with age? Our lab investigates these questions using the fruit fly, Drosophila. We use multiple approaches to address this question, including genetic screening, behavioral analysis, genomics, and brain imaging techniques with the goal of uncovering fundamental principles that regulate behavior.

  • Michael Cortez
    I am interested in how ecological, evolutionary, and epidemiological processes interact to drive population-level dynamics. My research program involves the development and use mathematical models to understand how species interactions and variation in species traits (due to evolution or phenotypic plasticity) affect the dynamics of predator-prey, host-pathogen, and other communities.

  • Hongchang Cui
    Cell fate specification and reprogramming in plants; evolutionary and developmental biology; plant-environment interaction; genomics and epigenomics; proteomics; molecular genetics.

  • Jonathan H. Dennis
    The biology of chromatin involved in the innate immune response.

  • Emily H. DuVal
    My lab group investigates the social behavior of wild birds. We study how social groups form, the selective forces that influence cooperation, and the fitness effects of complex behaviors. Our work analyzes detailed long-term field data on behavior and genetic reproductive success, using statistical models to quantify within- and between-individual effects. Major study systems include Lance-tailed Manakins in Panama and Brown-headed Nuthatches in the Tallahassee area.

  • Gregory M. Erickson
    Evolutionary morphology of vertebrates and paleobiology.

  • David Houle
    I am an evolutionary geneticist, studying the relationship between genomic and phenotypic variation. Now that we have genomes, we need a comparably thorough understanding of phenomes to understand the selection that acts on genetic variation. Our models are the appendages of fruit flies, where we exploit genomic variation, direct manipulation of genes and experimental evolution to understand how the developmental system shapes variation, and ultimately the ability of complex systems to evolve.

  • Kimberly A. Hughes
    Why are organisms are so genetically diverse? This is the broad question on which my lab focuses. In particular, we want to understand how variation is maintained in traits that are under strong natural selection: life history traits, sexually selected traits, and other traits closely tied to fitness. We use a variety of approaches to investigate these issues ranging from field experiments to genomic analyses.

  • Brian D. Inouye
    I am a quantitative population and community ecologist, mostly working with plants and insects. I am interested in how variation among individuals (in traits, stages, and spatial locations) affects population dynamics and species interactions. Projects in the lab include work on spatial neighborhood effects on plants and insects, tritrophic interactions among plants-seed predators-parasitoids, mathematical models of communities, and phenological responses to climate change.

  • Kathryn M. Jones
    I study the symbiotic interaction of nitrogen-fixing rhizobial bacteria with legume host plants: 1)How bacteria manipulate their environment during host plant invasion such 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 plants direct resources to productive symbionts at the expense of unproductive ones (cheaters).

  • Alan Lemmon
    (Department of Scientific Computing). Aspects of evolutionary biology, including phylogenetics, phylogeography, speciation, population genetics, and genomics.

  • Emily Lemmon
    Research in our lab focuses on the study of speciation, from the earliest stages where populations start to diverge to the final stages where reproductive isolation evolves. We are also involved in accelerating resolution of the Tree of Life, through development of next-generation sequencing approaches for phylogenomics and population genomics.

  • Sarah Lester
    I am an applied marine ecologist focused on coastal and marine natural resource management and conservation science. Lester Lab research centers around three closely linked themes: 1) spatial approaches to marine conservation, management, and ecosystem restoration, 2) socio-ecological vulnerability of marine systems to global change, and 3) marine aquaculture and sustainable seafood systems. We apply an interdisciplinary lens to our work and utilize field surveys, data analysis and synthesis, and modeling.

  • 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 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

  • Thomas E. Miller
    I am broadly interested in what controls the diversity and abundance of species in different communities and I work in two very different areas. (1) Coastal Dune Vegetation: I am interested in the forces that structure communities on barrier islands, with an eye to understanding long-term effects of climate change. (2) Community Ecology and Evolution of Inquilines Pitcher Plants: We use models and experiments to ask how species in assemblages evolve through time, testing patterns inherent in Darwins Finches.

  • Daniel Okamoto
    We study population dynamics, with a focus on how environmental variability, trophic interactions, and management affect viability and productivity in space and time. We partner with coastal and Indigenous communities in our research, with the goal of making resource management and conservation more equitable, ecologically sound, and just. Research in the lab integrates fieldwork, laboratory experiments focused on ecophysiology and energetics, statistical analysis, quantitative theory, and simulation modeling.

  • Andrew Rassweiler
    I am a quantitative marine ecologist with research interests straddling the linked fields of natural resource management and ecosystem resilience. I combine field experiments, data analysis and mathematical modeling to address basic and applied questions in temperate and tropical reef ecosystems.

  • Darin R. Rokyta
    Molecular and statistical properties of adaptive evolution.

  • Scott J. Steppan
    My research is focused on understanding the origin of biological diversity. I reconstruct phylogenies of highly diverse groups like rodents and bivalves and use those phylogenies to explore biogeography, morphological evolution, rates of diversification, and how patterns of correlations among traits themselves evolve,

  • 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 vary from one population to another. This variation, whether in behavior, life history, or morphology, represents the earliest stage in the adaptive generation of biodiversity. In some cases, this variation can promote ecological differences between localities, which illustrates the interplay of evolution and ecology.

  • Nora Underwood
    I study the ecology and evolution of plant-insect interactions, with a focus on how genotypic and phenotypic variation among individuals affects the long-term spatial and temporal dynamics of populations and communities. I also work on the effects of climate on plant and insect phenology and on the consequences of changes in phenology. I work in both natural and agricultural systems, and use a combination of greenhouse and field experiments and mathematical modeling.

  • Alice A. Winn
    I am interested in how plants adapt to environments that vary in time and space, and how this contributes to patterns of phenotypic variation within and among individuals and populations. Major topics of research in my lab include the ecology and evolution of phenotypic plasticity, processes that promote or inhibit local adaptation, and the evolution of plant mating systems.

  • Janie L. Wulff
    Mutualisms, life history and morphological strategies, predator defenses, and biogeography of clonal marine invertebrates, especially sponges.


The program of research and graduate training in ecology and evolutionary biology traditionally has been one of the Department of Biological Science's areas of strength. The faculty members have a variety of interests in population and community ecology, behavioral biology, ecological and population genetics, and systematics and phylogenetic inference. Several faculty members apply their work to problems in conservation biology, resource management, and the effects of human disturbance on ecosystems. The research programs of the faculty are quite varied in their specific foci but have a common emphasis on rigorous quantitative methods. Members of the group interact regularly with colleagues in other areas of the department and with colleagues in other departments such as the Department of Statistics and the Department of Mathematics.