SICB 2019

SICB 2019 wrapped up on Monday, and it was a great conference as usual!

Jennifer, Jennie, and Lorea discussing their findings at SICB 2019 in Tampa, FL.

This year three students I taught and mentored in a Field Marine Ecology course presented their research on joint territory defense in Dusky Damselfish (Stegastes adustus). They performed this work in Quintana Roo, Mexico, and they did a phenomenal job presenting the results of their study. SICB was a great first major conference for them, as they not only had the opportunity to discuss their work with veteran researchers who’d studied damselfish their entire career, but also hear about a wide range of interesting research topics they’d never been exposed to.

I spoke on an aspect of my postdoctoral work that was recently accepted in Aquatic Toxicology – through this study we identified changes in gene expression associated with exposure to a widely used pesticide (bifenthrin) in the western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis). In spite of transcriptional changes in genes associated with reproduction and the stress response, we did not identify behavioral shifts as a result of exposure.

In addition to excellent presentations and great conversations with other scientists, Tampa was a great host city!


Alex’s Round Goby paper is published!

Alex Maytin was an REU student I mentored at Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie during the summer of 2016. He graduated from Boston University in the spring of 2018.

This past week the manuscript that was the product of an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) student I had the opportunity to mentor at Ohio State’s Stone Laboratory was published online in Behavioural Processes. Alex’s project focused on how dominance relationships form between round goby of varying sizes. It’s pretty well established in many species (including round goby) that larger individuals are socially dominant to smaller individuals. This means larger individuals generally have greater resource holding potential – whether that resource is food, shelter, or mates.

Alex predicted that this trend would hold true (its already been established in a number of studies on round goby), but was interested in how these relationships are established in more complex social settings. Do dominance relationships form between larger individuals before smaller individuals? Does the actual size difference between individuals influence how quickly the relationship is resolved? Do males and females differ in how they resolve conflict over dominance?

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Some of the predicted dominance relationships between goby that differ in relative size.

After 5 weeks of intense work while at Stone Lab, Alex set up many groups of three individuals of the same sex that varied in relative size. He then collected an impressive amount of data on these fish and groups, scored behavioral videos, and analyzed the results. He presented his preliminary findings at the end of the 5 week session, and after subsequent analysis of the data the manuscript is finally out!

Alex pulling up a trawl to collect goby from Lake Erie.

Alex found that larger individuals establish dominance over smaller individuals quickly, and that smaller individuals in groups did not differ in their dominance score. Interestingly, there was no difference between males in females in their behavioral interactions.

Alex did a phenomenal job carrying out this experiment and completing this paper, great work!

Read the full article here:


A long awaited visit to the salmon run at Goldstream Provincial Park!

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Male chum salmon (a female is in the background on the right) in Goldstream Provincial Park.

I’ve always loved salmon. Not just eating them (I enjoy that too); I’ve found them fascinating for as long as I can remember. One of my fondest childhood memories was a family vacation to Lake Huron where I caught a pink salmon, Onchorynchus gorbuscha. At Wittenberg University, two classmates and I focused our senior Capstone paper and presentation on salmon and salmon fisheries. In my Introductory Biology course at Ohio State University, I developed a classroom activity focused on the impacts of salmon (and their migrations) in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. While I’ve never done research on salmon myself, I’ve always jumped at opportunities to tag along with colleagues at UC Davis whose work does focus on them. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I was VERY excited to visit Goldstream Provincial Park on Vancouver Island during this year’s salmon run.

Goldstream Provincial Park boasts a large Chum salmon (Onchorhynchus keta) run. There are also Coho (Onchorhynchus kisutch) and Chinook (Onchorhynchus tskawytscha) salmon, but the vast majority of the spawning fish here are chum. Male chum develop vertical stripes, hooked jaws, and long teeth (which may explain their common nickname – dog salmon). Females develop a long dark stripe along their side during spawning.

Spawning is an aggressive event for chum salmon. Males fight aggressively with one another for access to mates; they also bite females in their attempts to mate. Eventually, females will dig into the streambed and lay eggs which will then be fertilized by the males. Shortly thereafter, the adults will die and become food for the many animals that depend on salmon runs for a late season nutrient boost. In fact, many terrestrial ecosystems depend on salmon as a source of nutrients that sustain these ecosystems, and salmon have been described as “keystone species” in these ecosystems (Willson & Halupka 1995, Cederholm et al. 1999) meaning they play a unique, critical role that other species would not be able to fulfill.


Once the fish die, they are an essential food source for many animals. Indirectly, salmon provide nutrients for the plant life once they’ve been digested or decomposed.


The rest of the year there may be less activity in Goldstream Provincial Park, but there are still young salmon growing up before heading out to sea, as well as the year round resident cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) and plenty of other wildlife! Below is a video I filmed at the same spot in Goldstream Provincial Park in June, 2018.

Go Fish! Game Theory and understanding Social Behavior in Marine Ecosystems

This week I had the opportunity to join Dr. Jennifer Smith’s Marine Biology course at Mills College in Oakland, CA.  The students, Dr. Smith, and I spent the afternoon talking about how Game Theory can help us understand behavioral interactions in Marine Ecosystems. We had a great time playing “Fighting Eel – Displaying Eel” (Hawk-Dove game) and a Producer – Scrounger game based on algal farming in damselfish. In addition to hearing a lot about many cool marine organisms, the students also learned about Evolutionarily Stable Strategies, and how the costs and benefits impact the outcome of games. We also explored how the order of decisions in sequential games may influence the outcome of games depending on whether or not players have shared interests. On top of it all, we ate a lot of candy!

Students developed their own creative (and amusing) “fight” and “display” gestures for our modified Hawk-Dove game. 

Dr. Smith has an amazing class. I was honored to get to meet and interact with such a bright group of young scientists and tell them about some of my work on cichlid fishes, as well as the research of several of my colleagues Julie Zill (University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa), Dr. Michael Gil (University of California, Santa Cruz), and research done by several of my undergraduate students from a Marine Ecology course I co-taught this spring!


ISBE Talk (8-9-18)

ISBE 2018

The 2018 meeting of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology was a wonderful conference. In addition to hearing about lots of great research, I had the opportunity to catch up with a number of colleagues from current and past projects. I also finally met other researchers from around the world who I’d only known from their research. I got a lot of great feedback on my postdoctoral research, which will undoubtedly improve the forthcoming manuscripts on it.


Minneapolis was a great host city. The venue was convenient, the food was delicious, and we had a great time visiting the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, the Bell Museum, and catching a Twins game.

Postdoctoral researcher position at Ohio State University

Since my NSF postdoctoral research fellowship ended in July 2018, I’ve begun a postdoctoral researcher position at Ohio State University working with Dr. Ian Hamilton in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology. Generally, we’re investigating the robustness and resilience of social networks facing perturbations. While working on this project I’ll be splitting time between Ohio State, UC Davis, and Lake Tanganyika in Zambia for field research on the cichlid fishes there. I spent a few weeks in Columbus following ISBE to meet and train new team members, and set up experiments that will be running this fall. I am now back in Davis until late November.

While back at OSU in August I got to meet up with a lot of old friends, and do one of the local favorite hikes in Hocking Hills State Park.

Team Gambusia Undergrads graduating!

undergradsIn 2018 six members of Team Gambusia graduated. They’ve moved on to diverse career opportunities including working for government agencies in California, positions at UC Davis, and in industry as environmental consultants. Good luck to all of you!

Before they left, they developed and carried out an experiment of their own on mosquitofish anti-predator behavior. In their spare time are scoring behavioral videos and running hormone assays. They’re doing great work – look for their results in the not too distant future!

A brief recap of SICB 2018

Rechelle and I presenting our poster at SICB 2018 in San Francisco. Rechelle graduated from UC Davis in Spring 2017 and was integral to the research we presented. She now works as the Lab Manager in the Calisi Lab at UC Davis.

I had a wonderful time at the 2018 SICB meeting in San Francisco. As usual, there were plenty of great presentations, and this year there was also a special Editors Challenge workshop on stress. This workshop was one of the highlights of the week for me, in the coming weeks you’ll be able to read a summary, find links to presentation slides, as well as video links to some of the presentations and discussions on the Integrative and Comparative Biology blog which I contribute to.

I had the opportunity to share some new insights on some old questions regarding territory defense in the cichlid fish Neolamprologus pulcher for my talk on Thursday. Additionally, along with recent Team Gambusia and UC Davis graduate Rechelle Viernes, I presented some new results on the behavioral and neuroendocrine impacts of pesticide exposure on the western mosquitofish during Saturday’s poster sessions. Look out for both papers in the not too distant future!