Professor Marlene Zuk
Graduate Faculty Memberships:
Ecology, Evolution and Behavior
- Sexual selection and mate choice
- Animal communication
- Effects of parasites on host ecology, evolution and behavior
- Conflicts between natural and sexual selection.
Our lab focuses on emerging questions in behavioral ecology and evolutionary biology. We use invertebrate systems to study the evolution of mating behavior and secondary sexual characters in natural populations. I and others in my lab seek to understand how natural and sexual selection pressures shape the behavior, life history, and morphology of animals. Currently, we are studying the conflict between sexual and natural selection in Pacific field crickets, Teleogryllus oceanicus, which are subject to an acoustically-orienting parasitic fly. The fly uses the male cricket’s calling song to find a host, which means that natural selection favors reducing the same signal that sexual selection is expected to enhance. What can a cricket do? In some of the populations of the crickets, 50-90% of the males now exhibit a wing mutation that renders them silent, protecting them from the fly but posing a problem in mate attraction. The mutation spread in fewer than twenty generations, remarkably rapid evolution. How do the crickets deal with the loss of their sexual signal, and how was the trait able to spread so quickly? This work has also led to a more general interest in rates of evolution and the role of behavior in the establishment of novel traits.
In addition, like others who study sexual behavior in animals, I have noticed that people like to apply what we learn to their own behavior. I often am contacted by journalists and other people asking questions like, "Is monogamy natural?" or "Does homosexuality exist in non-humans?" I enjoy interacting with other scientists as well as the public in discussions of these and related issues, and have written several books for a general audience about animal behavior and evolution.
Selected Scientific Publications
Zuk, M., Rotenberry, J.T., and Tinghitella, R.M. 2006. Silent night: Adaptive disappearance of a sexual signal in a parasitized population of field crickets. Biology Letters 2: 521-524.
Zuk, M. and Tinghitella, R.M. 2008. Rapid evolution and sexual selection. In: Sociobiology of Communication, P. D’Ettorre and D.P. Hughes, eds. Oxford University Press.
Bailey, N.W. and Zuk, M. 2009. Same-sex sexual behavior and evolution. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 24: 439-446
Bailey, N.W., Gray, B., and Zuk, M. 2010. Acoustic experience shapes alternative mating tactics and reproductive investment in male field crickets. Current Biology 20: 845-849
Tinghitella, R.M., Simmons, L.W., Beveridge, M., and Zuk, M. 2011. Island hopping introduces Polynesian field crickets to novel environments, genetic bottlenecks, and rapid evolution. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 24: 1199-1211
Bailey, N.W. and Zuk, M. in press. Socially flexible female choice differs among populations of the Pacific field cricket: geographic variation in the interaction coefficient psi (Ψ). Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B.
Zuk, M. 2012. Bring on the aerial ant sex. Los Angeles Times, April 29.
Zuk, M. 2012. Anthropomorphism: A Peculiar Institution. The Scientist 26: 66-67.
Zuk, M. 2011. Can bugs improve your sex life? Wall Street Journal, August 1.
Zuk, M. 2002. Sexual Selections: what we can and can’t learn about sex from animals. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Zuk, M. 2007. Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are. Harcourt, Inc., New York.
Zuk, M. 2011. Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love and Language from the Insect World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York.
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