EEB Seminar: March 6th

Maren Vitousek will talk on

Sex, stress, and success: investigating the evolutionary causes and consequences of variation in the acute stress response

at 12:30 in the EEB lounge (BioSciences 4338)

From taking shelter in extreme weather, to reducing parental behavior in the presence of predators, to coping with injury, the ways in which organisms respond to stressors can influence their likelihood of survival and reproduction. Glucocorticoid hormones play a central role in orchestrating the behavioral and physiological response to stressful events in vertebrates. However, mounting a stress response imposes a trade-off: while elements of this response are often crucial to coping with immediate challenges, even relatively brief increases in glucocorticoids can impair the expression of a multitude of processes important for reproduction and longer-term fitness. Variation in glucocorticoid signals has thus been proposed as both a mediator of life-history trade-offs, and a target of selection. Using research in Galapagos marine iguanas and two species of swallows (Hirundininae) I will discuss the relationships between individual variation in the acute stress response and behavior, reproductive success, and survival. For selection to shape these traits they must have a heritable component; I will also present the first estimates of the heritability of circulating glucocorticoids in a natural population, and discuss the implications of these findings for the evolution of hormone signal systems.

barn swallows - photo by Matt Wilkins

Dr. Maren Vitousek is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University. She completed her Masters and PhD at Princeton University where she worked with Martin Wikelski. Maren’s research interests lie at the intersection of behavior and endocrinology to understand how organisms cope with and respond to stressors in their environment. Current research in her lab investigates individual-level responses to stressful events, understanding the role of hormones in shaping life-history variation across vertebrates, and the costs of sexual signaling and signal assessment. Maren has worked extensively on Galapagos Marine Iguana’s and was a scientific consultant for David Attenborough’s Galapagos 3D.

Everyone is welcome to attend
Coffee and treats available at the seminar