Thursday, April 9, 2015

Why molly fishes?

Why mollies?  This is the question I most often hear regarding my master’s thesis research.  To be honest, I find myself wondering that same question when I’m submerged up to my shoulders in stinky fish water scrubbing the walls of their 150-gallon tanks.  Why do I do this?  Well, sailfin mollies (Poecilia latipinna) are an excellent example of a species subject to strong sexual selection.  Just like the male peacock with his outrageous tail feathers, male mollies have developed an enormous dorsal fin that serves to attract females.  How do such traits evolve?  One hypothesis – the handicap principle – suggests that because these enlarged traits are a burden to have, they must signal high mate quality to interested females.  So the debate is over – bigger is better, at least in the animal kingdom!  But wait – what’s a small male to do?  Well, smaller, less preferred male mollies have adopted an alternative mating strategy in which they try to sneak mating attempts on unsuspecting females.  While not so nice, these strategies are equally successful as the courtship strategy employed by large males (see courtship video below), so both strategies, sneaking and courting, are maintained in wild molly populations.  Pretty cool if you ask me.    

male courtship display

hey girl, do you like my tail feathers?

large male (50mm)

small male (25mm)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

SICB 2015!

I couldn't help but feel like a dorky groupie this past week while attending the annual meeting for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in West Palm Beach Florida. I think my jaw actually dropped slightly when I realized that Daniel Weihs and Paul Webb were BOTH giving a joint symposium talk (which was hysterical!)... I may or may not have "run away" when I noticed Peter Wainwright was coming up to join the conversation I was in because I was so nervous....and thank god I did not realize the man with the Italian accent who commented on my talk was Paolo Domenici until half way through the next talk... I probably would have fainted.... 

But this is why SICB is so awesome! On top of all the great talks, this conference still manages to allow for time to meet some amazing people! Go to workshops that are actually helpful for your future work, and catch up with people you have not seen since the last annual meeting.

Looking forward to the Portland meeting next year, so I can feel like a star-struck teenager all over again... only I actually get to learn things instead of just permanently damaging my hearing!