About the Ketterson Lab

If we are to predict which life forms will prevail in the coming centuries, we need greater knowledge of the mechanisms that determine how organisms adapt to changing environments. A key concept underlying research in our group is hormonal pleiotropy, which refers to the ability of circulating signaling molecules like hormones to simultaneously influence the expression of multiple phenotypic traits related to performance and fitness. Hormonal pleiotropy can facilitate flexible responses to the environment, potentially leading to adaptive evolution. However, depending on the ease with which traits enter or leave 'hormonal control,' hormonal pleiotropy may also slow adaptation.

For a number of years, using correlative and experimental methods (hormone implants, hormone challenges, differential gene expression using qPCR and NGS), we have been identifying links between the environment, hormone secretion, and hormone responses in various tissues in brain and periphery. The study system is a bird that has been a key player in our understanding of speciation and seasonality and offers geographic variation in ecology, reproductive timing, migratory behavior, appearance, and behavior. Current projects related to this larger theme are 1) population divergence in heteropatry, mate choice and the physiology of animal migration, 2) hormone-mediated phenotypic plasticity and the colonization of novel environments, 3) reproductive investment and mechanisms of aging, and 4) the relationship of hormone signal and sensitivity to fitness in the wild.

Another important area of research in the laboratory is disease ecology and animal migration. Working with an outstanding team of collaborators and using new technology including stable isotopes, geolocators, and NGS, we are using the junco as a model for studying connectivity among breeding and wintering populations and the role of migration in disease transmission. Jonathan Atwell is leading this project.

Ketterson Lab in the News