“The electric organs of fishes offer another case of special difficulty; it is impossible to conceive by what steps these wondrous organs have been produced…"
- Charles Darwin The Origin of Species
Why Electric Fish?
Vertebrates have evolved a multitude of adaptive traits to exploit resources in the air, on the land, and in the water. While the evolution of these novel traits has led to a rich tapestry of species, the single origin of many of these traits present a statistical dilemma: they are single replicate ‘experiments’ that lack power to resolve how and why novel traits evolve. For this reason, our lab focuses electric fish, vertebrate species that have independently evolved electric organs six times. In each case, electric organs evolved to produce electric fields for the purposes of communication and navigation, and occasionally for predation and defense.
Two parallel electric fish lineages have undergone rapid speciation as a consequence of electric organ evolution and exhibit convergent evolution at every biological level: from molecules to ecology. The electric fish system is therefore highly amenable to understanding the link between genotype and phenotype because it provides replicated natural experiments in which evolution has produced similar phenotypic outcomes both within and between these lineages.
About our work
Our work is fundamentally integrative and spans biological levels of analysis and disciplines, including ecology and evolution, genomics and bioinformatics, physiology, developmental biology, and animal behavior. Our work takes place in the field, the laboratory and in silico. Our laboratory focuses on (1) building weakly electric fish as a model for genotype-to-phenotype studies, (2) the evolution and development of electric organs (3) the proximate and ultimate causes of electric signal evolution and (4) the evolution of electric fish reproduction.