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Members of the Zuk lab are driven by a passion for behavioral ecology. As a research group, we are broadly interested in sexual selection, and work on a wide range of projects related to sexual behavior, rapid signal evolution, and immune function.

Principal Investigator: Professor Marlene Zuk

Current Postdocs

Justa Heinen-Kay

I am an evolutionary ecologist broadly interested in how phenotypic diversity is generated and maintained in the wild. I’m especially interested in how the environment shapes behavioral, phenotypic, and physiological traits associated with mating. In the Zuk lab, my research is focused on elucidating the factors that contributed to rapid sexual signal loss in Pacific field crickets. Read more about my research here.

Current Graduate Students

Mounica Kota

I am broadly interested in the evolution of sexual traits. My research focuses on how the tradeoff between natural and sexual selection changes over varying environments. For my PhD work, I am focusing on how the environment modulates the survival-attractiveness tradeoff for two sexual signals in the Pacific field cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus.

Rachel Olzer

How novel traits are established has long puzzled evolutionary biologists. Scientists are just beginning to examine the role that phenotypic plasticity plays in novel trait evolution, with particular interest in the role of behavioral plasticity in accommodating morphological novelty. Animal communication signals, particularly sexual signals, represent a unique opportunity to understand how behavioral plasticity can facilitate novel trait evolution. While there is a great deal of plasticity in signaling behavior, especially as it relates to mate attraction, we still do not understand why plasticity might facilitate novel trait evolution in some instances, but not others. In my PhD I will examine how plasticity in reproductive behavior can accommodate the establishment and maintenance of novel sexual traits. The recent and rapid evolution of a novel sexual trait in the Pacific field cricket, Teleogryllus oceanicus, provides a unique opportunity to examine plasticity in real-time. In aims one and two we examine the role of socially-mediated plasticity in reproduction. In aim three we examine a potential cost to maintaining that plasticity. With this work we can gain a greater understanding of why evolutionary novelty is common, but not ubiquitous in nature.

Narmin Ghalichi


Undergraduate Researchers

Sara de Sobrino

Adam Hartman

Adam Hartman

Jake Hjort

Jake Hjort

Aaron McCullough

Rachel Nichols


Grace Richmond

Kristin Robinson

Erin Schwister

Erin Schwister

Taren Stanely 

Ellen Urquhart 


Recent Graduates

Jessie Tanner, PhD 2018

I'm currently an NSF Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Biology at the Centre for Evolutionary Biology, University of Western Australia. My research in Dr. Leigh Simmons' lab examines the evolution of sexual traits by pre- and post-copulatory selection. I work primarily on the evolution of genital traits in rodents.

I completed my doctoral work with Drs. Mark Bee and Marlene Zuk at the University of Minnesota, where I was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellow. My dissertation research primarily focused on constraints on the evolution of acoustic signals by sexual selection. I used both vertebrate and invertebrate systems to answer questions about how multivariate sexual signals are shaped by mate choice, how biotic noise affects the expression of female mating preferences, the capacity of within-individual variation to mask the between-individual variation that is the target of mate choice, and the role of behavior in the establishment of novel phenotypes. Read more about my research here.

Rebecca Ehrlich, M.S. 2017

Rebecca Erlich

My research interests broadly encompass the evolution of animal mating systems, life history theory, and ecoimmunology. I am especially interested in studying trade-offs between disease resistance and sexual selection under real-world environmental pressures. For my masters work, I investigated the influence of climate change on insect reproduction and immune defense through an evolutionary and ecological framework.


Kirstine Grab, B.S. 2018

During my time in the cricket lab, I worked as a cricket care technician and helped out with different research projects, specifically a project looking at wandering behavior in male crickets and how the rearing environment influenced their behavior across different colonies.  Currently, I'm working as a research assistant at The Wetlands Institute where I spend most of my time working with diamondback terrapins.

Marissa Peyer B.S. 2018

Undergraduate Marissa Peyer

In the Zuk lab, I spent two years washing dishes then transitioned into working on a project with Dr. Justa Heinen-Kay for my last two years at the U of M. During this time, we investigated methods of identifying unique cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) patterns of desiccated crickets through GCMS, with potential implications on how CHC work is done in the field. After completing this project and graduating from the University of Minnesota, I moved to Durham, NC where I am currently attending medical school at Duke University. 

Daina Strub, B.S. 2018

Daina Strub