Research

My research program focuses on the evolution of biological diversity; what explains the enormous phenotypic variation in shape, behavior, and color we see in the animal kingdom? This theme incorporates not only variations we can see, like differences in coloration between and within species, but also functional and physiological diversity. I primarily work on animal coloration from these perspectives and use a combination of experimental and computational approaches including field studies and experimental manipulations, laboratory 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? My postdoctoral work in the Lawing lab at Texas A&M University investigated these questions in Nymphalid butterflies (paper in progress). 



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 while 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. 



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. My current work in the Miller Lab at Penn State University combines this dataset with many others to comparatively assess age-dependent mortality and senescence. 
                Collaborators: LCOF, Miller Lab at PSU