Exaggerated male traits - such as the colorful plumage of male birds of paradise, the stag’s antlers, and the horns of male rhinoceros beetles - are conspicuous or outsized structures that are used by males to attract mates. The existence of exaggerated male traits, which are found throughout the animal world, has intrigued evolutionary biologists for centuries.

Some fundamental questions about the evolution of exaggerated traits are:
  • What selective pressures drive the evolution of flamboyant male traits?
  • How do sexually antagonistic traits, those beneficial to one sex but detrimental to the other, evolve and persist?
  • How does gene expression change when traits evolve?

  • Over the past three decades, the Gerald Wilkinson laboratory at the University of Maryland, has used stalk-eyed flies from South East Asia as a model system for understanding several evolutionary processes. The eyes and antennae of these unique insects are laterally displaced on projections extending out from the central head. Unlike most other animals with exaggerated traits, stalk-eyed flies are easily reared in the laboratory.

    The Evolution of Exaggerated Traits stream addresses a fundamental question in the field of evolutionary development, “how does variation in gene expression affect the development of a sexually dimorphic trait?” We study gene expression in the eyestalks of dimorphic male and female flies in order to understand the connections between genes, development, traits, and evolution. The EET stream uses a combination of laboratory and computational approaches for our research. Students receive training in molecular biology, quantitative PCR assay design, bioinformatics, and statistical analysis – valuable skills for any student interested in a biomedical or biological science career.

    First-Year Spring Semester Course:
    FIRE 166 - FIRE SEMESTER 2: Evolution of Exaggerated Traits
    (3 credits, General Education Distributive Studies, Natural Sciences)
    Second-Year Fall Semester Course:
    FIRE 266 - FIRE SEMESTER 2: Evolution of Exaggerated Traits
    (3 credits, General Education Scholarship in Practice)

    2017 Evolution of Exaggerated Traits Innovation & Research Stream

    Faculty Leader
    Dr. Gerald Wilkinson

    Research Educator
    Dr. Ashley Nazario-Toole