Parasite Mediated Sexual Trait Divergence
The comparative piece of my dissertation research was focused on understanding how parasites can influence the evolution of their hosts. Specifically, I looked at how local adaptation to parasite communities may drive sexual trait divergence across closely related populations.
Sexual traits often advertise information about parasites and females may receive indirect benefits from choosing attractive males, such as parasite resistant genes passed to offspring, or direct benefits, such as higher quality territories or better parental care. Understanding what benefits females gain within populations by using male sexual traits will help us to better understand why sexual traits change across populations.
To answer these questions, I studied the local parasite community, the cost of those parasite infections and co-infections, and the information content of male sexual traits in three closely related barn swallow subspecies with divergent sexual selection. This work took place in the Czech Republic where females choose males with longer tail streamers, in Colorado where females choose males based on dark ventral plumage, and in Israel, where females choose males based on both tail streamer length and dark ventral coloration. Within each of these populations, I compared how sexual traits expression reflects information about local parasite communities and what benefits females gain by using sexual traits to select mates.
This work is possible because of several amazing collaborators, including: Dr. Tomáš Albrecht in the Czech Republic, Dr Yoni Vortman in Israel, and Dr. Basma Sheeta in Egypt.
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