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IU-MSI STEM Initiative

Emilia Martins


Our research is on the evolution of complex behavioral traits such as communication and social behavior. We compare different species of lizards and fish to understand the processes that lead to large-scale, behavioral diversification. How do processes like random genetic drift, selection, and learning produce the tremendous diversity of communicative displays and social behavior that we see across species today? How do genetic and social factors interact over long periods of evolutionary time? Are major patterns of behavioral differentiation better explained by strong selection or by weak, but persistent, selection?

Research in my lab combines comparative analyses of communicative signals; empirical research on the social, genetic, hormonal, and chemical mechanisms underlying behavioral plasticity; and development of theoretical methods and software. We have studied mostly lizard headbob displays and are currently working on the combination of motion, color, and chemical signals by Sceloporus lizards in Mexico. We are also working on social behavior and social network dynamics of zebrafish from different populations in India, making use of the wealth of genetic and developmental tools for this model organism, but studying their behavior in the wild. We have also created several computer programs such as COMPARE which allows researchers to apply phylogenetic comparative methods to their own data and EthoBank, a public database for behavioral data.

Revised: Feb. 9, 2012

Sarah Larson
Program Coordinator
IU-MSI STEM Initiative
Indiana University