CIE Seminar Series 2014 – Competitive Phenotypes in Females: Proximate Origins and Ultimate Outcomes

Kristal CainSPEAKER: Dr Kristal Cain, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, Australian National University
DATE: Friday, 18th July 2014
LOCATION: Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds, Room ka4.207
TIME: 2:00 pm
Seminar will also be video linked to the following campuses: Melbourne Campus at Burwood, Room T3.05 and Warrnambool Campus, Room C.1.13

ABSTRACT: Females in a variety of taxa and mating systems express traits that are used in male-male mate competition, i.e. competitive traits: intense aggression, complex song, bright colors, lethal weaponry, etc.

However, in most species females are not mate limited and mating success has little effect on female reproductive success. Consequently, the traditional sexual selection framework we use to understand these traits in males does not provide a satisfactory explanation for females. This makes female expression of competitive traits is something of an evolutionary puzzle.

I address this problem by integrating proximate and ultimate approaches to better understand how and why female songbirds express these traits. I will discuss research that examines the role of testosterone in mediating female aggression and maternal care, whether bright female colouration is due to cross-sex genetic correlations, and how female song patterns reveal what is important to females.

I’ll then examine how such traits are related to reproductive success in free-living birds and what this tells us about the evolution and maintenance of competitive traits in females.

BIO: Kristal is originally from Texas, and completed her BS in Wildlife Ecology at Texas A&M University.

After graduating, she worked as a wildlife biologist for many years before returning to academia. She completed her PhD at Indiana University with Ellen Ketterson on the role of testosterone in mediating sexual dimorphism in juncos.

She then moved to Australia to take up a postdoctoral fellowship collaborating with Naomi Langmore at ANU on female song the superb fairy-wren. She recently began a postdoctoral position with Sarah Pryke and Loeske Kruuk using quantitative genetics methods to understand female colouration.

For enquiries and appointments with the guest speaker, please email Kate Buchanan.