bowerbird solving problem
male stickleback


I am an evolutionary biologist with a strong background in behavioral ecology. I study the evolution of complex traits, with a particular emphasis on cognition. I study cognitive evolution at multiple levels (species, population, individual, and genome) and how it is affected by multiple selective agents (e.g., sexual selection, social environment, parenting, habitat).

For my doctoral dissertation, I studied satin bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) with Dr. Gerald Borgia. Males of this species have one of the most behaviorally complex sexual displays in the animal world, constructing arenas out of sticks decorated with feathers and flowers on which they dance to show off to females their vocal prowess and physical vigor. I found that males who performed better on cognitive tasks such as solving novel problems were sexually preferred by females (smart was sexy!) and males may indicate their cognitive ability through their complex displays.

During my first postdoctoral research position, I studied speciaion and adaptive divergence in threespine stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus species complex) with Dr. Jenny Boughman. Specifically, I studied recently diverged, and independently evolved, species-pairs of sticklebacks that have adapted to two major ecological niches (called “limnetic” and “benthic”). I utilized this system to study how populations evolve cognitive differences as they adapt to different environments. In addition, I studed how sexual selection can affect the speciation process.

In my current postdoctoral research position, I continue to study threespine sticklebacks with Dr. Alison Bell. Specifically, I am studying how paternal care can affect offspring behavior, and the mechanisms behind these behavioral differences (e.g., epigenetic modifications).

jason keagy