Research

My research program focuses on the evolution of color diversity, incorporating under-studied areas of the field as well as novel approaches in order to inform a more integrative framework. I use a combination of experimental and computational approaches including field studies and manipulations, pigment analysis, visual modeling, and phylogenetic comparative methods that draw from the fields of evolutionary biology, physiology, and visual ecology. 


Color Diversity Evolution
I am fascinated by the diversity of colors and patterns within some groups of organisms, as well as by the lack of diversity in others. What factors determine how diverse a group will become? How do innovations in color mechanisms affect available color spaces? How do discrete structures work together to form complex patterns such as those in butterflies and birds and what can these patterns tell us about the strength of selection? 



Pigment Physiology
Animal integuments such as skin, hair, scales, fur, cuticle, shells, and feathers contain pigments that can have physiological functions (e.g., antioxidant activity, immune stimulation, desiccation prevention) in addition to providing coloration. This functional diversity is often overlooked, except in the context of signaling, despite the likelihood that pigments could impact organismal life histories in many species without having associated signaling functions. For example, it has long been assumed that the bright plastron coloration of painted turtles, Chrysemys picta, has a signaling function. Using visual modeling and a predation experiment, I found that the coloration likely does not have a signaling function (Reinke et al. 2017 Evolutionary Ecology), but that the pigments appear to play a significant role in mitigating oxidative stress during somatic freezing (Reinke, dissertation work). In this case, the physiological function of integumentary pigments can significantly impact the survival of the animal having no signaling function in the integument. Other organisms in which the functional diversity of pigments are under-studied but are likely to be relevant to fitness include metamorphosing insects and species that are polymorphic in coloration. 
                    Collaborators: Ryan Calsbeek


Long-term Painted Turtle Study
I maintain a long-term field site on Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) in Sawyer County, Wisconsin. For eight years, I have conducted a mark-recapture study on painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) in LCO. Long-term field studies are necessary to obtain relevant data for long-lived animals such as freshwater turtles and the dataset I am building will be available for studies of growth, morphology, color, and population dynamics.
                Collaborators: LCOF