University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
College of Biological Sciences

Professor Marlene Zuk

Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1986
612-625-5727 Fax: 612-624-6777

Graduate Faculty Memberships:

Ecology, Evolution and Behavior

Research Interests

  • 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

Simmons, L.W., Thomas, M., Simmons, F. and Zuk, M. 2013 Female preferences for acoustic and olfactory signals during courtship. Behavioral Ecology 24: 1099-1107 .

Orr, T. and Zuk, M. in press. Do reproductive delays facilitate sperm competition in bats? Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Zuk, M. and Borrello, M.E. 2013 in press.  Parasites and altruism: converging roads. Biology Letters.

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.

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., Gray, B., and Zuk, M. 2010. Acoustic experience shapes alternative mating tactics and reproductive investment in male field crickets. Current Biology 20: 845-849 

Bailey, N.W. and Zuk, M. 2009. Same-sex sexual behavior and evolution.  Trends in Ecology & Evolution 24: 439-446

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.

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.

Popular Writing

Zuk, M. 2013. Animals to Hollywood: Get It Right. Los Angeles Times, August 10.

Zuk, M. 2013. Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live. Norton, New York.

Zuk, M. and O’Rourke, S. 2012. Is Biology Just Another Pink-Collar Profession? The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 29.

Zuk, M. 2011. Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love and Language from the Insect World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York.

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.2002. Sexual Selections: what we can and can’t learn about sex from animals. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Zuk, M.2011. Can bugs improve your sex life?  Wall Street Journal, August 1.

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.


Additional Links

Marlene Zuk's Lab Home Page