Research in the Earley laboratory centers around animal behavior and the diverse mechanisms that underlie remarkable levels of behavioral variation among individuals of a population. The vast majority of our work involves fishes, and fuses field observations of behavior and ecology with laboratory studies on hormones, metabolism, gene expression, and neurobiology. Our work with convict cichlid fish brings us to the volcanic crater lakes of Nicaragua where we explore the ecology and evolution of female sexual ornaments and variation in aggressive behavior; back in the lab, we apply a host of techniques to examine the physiological correlates of morphological and behavioral variation.
In the mangrove ecosystems of south Florida and the Caribbean, we study the mangrove rivulus – a self-fertilizing hermaphroditic fish with extraordinary sexual habits and unique population architecture. Our work with the mangrove rivulus focuses on gene x environment interactions during development and during adulthood, and the mechanisms that set phenotypic plasticity into motion. Back in our home state of Alabama, we have initiated projects on the nest association behavior of bluenose shiners with the goal of revealing why shiners lay their eggs in the nests of sunfish, how they determine suitable egg-laying sites, and how the costs and benefits of this interspecific interaction play out from both the shiner and sunfish perspective.
Research interests also include:
Field Experience & Activities
2011 – present: Belize mangrove ecosystems (study organism: mangrove rivulus, Kryptolebias marmoratus). Localities: Long Caye (6 sites), Northern Caye (2 sites), Sandbore Caye (1 site), Belize City. Population surveys; field collections (capture, fin clip, return) for population genetics; field collections (take) for laboratory stock; manipulating selection regimes in the wild; field endocrinology and metabolism; field experimentation on aggression and emersion behavior; assessment of ecological parameters (temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, tidal flux, depth, canopy cover, crab burrow densities, heterospecific competitor densities).
2009 – present: Florida mangrove ecosystems (study organism: mangrove rivulus, Kryptolebias marmoratus). Localities: 20+ sites on the eastern and western coasts and in the Florida Keys. Same activities as above (Belize mangrove ecosystems) but at these sites, we run transects and collect water, sediment, invertebrate, and fish samples to evaluate bioaccumulation of endocrine disrupting compounds. Transects also are erected to explore genetic similarity x distance relationships (dispersal).
2009 – present: Lake Xiloa, Nicaragua (study organism: convict cichlid fish, Amatitlania siquia). SCUBA-based research. Field observations of convict cichlid behavior; erecting vertical and horizontal transects; quantifying competition and predation pressure, food availability, temperature at various depths, turbidity; nest excavation and underwater capture of cichlids and eleotrid predators (night dives).
2005 – 2006: USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, Santa Catalina Island, CA (study organism: bluebanded goby, Lythrypnus dalli). SCUBA-based research. Field observations and manipulations of bluebanded goby social groups; animal collections for on-land experiments in marine flow through tanks.
2004: Flint River Watershed, GA: sampling blood from cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorous) to assess seasonal hormone profiles; assistant to Sean Graham.
1996: Zanzibar, East Africa: distribution surveys and population assessment in mangrove forests; laying transects; identification of seven mangrove tree species at various life history stages; work with local villages and the Forestry Commission to determine best plans of action for mangrove cutting regimes.
1996: Tanzania, East Africa: population ecology and conservation of large mammals; primarily behavioral observations.
Belize mangrove ecosystems (study organism: mangrove rivulus, Kryptolebias marmoratus). Photo credits: D. Scott Taylor, Ben Perlman, Ryan Earley
Florida mangrove ecosystems (study organism: mangrove rivulus, Kryptolebias marmoratus). Localities: 20+ sites on the eastern and western coasts and in the Florida Keys. Photo credits: D. Scott Taylor, Kristy Marson, Ben Perlman, Ching Chang.
Lake Xiloa, Nicaragua (study organism: convict cichlid fish, Amatitlania siquia). Photo credits: Mark McKaye, Ryan Earley, Caleb Anderson
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