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Pfennig, David W.

320 Wilson Hall
(919) 962-0155 (office)

Lab Website

I’m broadly interested in the interplay among evolution, ecology, and development.  My current research focuses on three main topics.

First, I study the causes and consequences of a common feature of development: its tendency to be responsive to changes in the environment.  Although biologists have long known that an individual organism’s appearance, behavior, and physiology can be modified by its environmental conditions, the implications of such developmental (or phenotypic) plasticity for ecology and evolution remain poorly understood. Moreover, the underlying genetic and developmental mechanisms that foster plasticity’s evolution are unclear.  I seek to understand the impacts of plasticity on diversification and evolutionary innovation, as well as how and why plasticity arises in the first place.

Second, I study the role of competition in generating and maintaining biodiversity.  I’m particularly interested in unravelling whether and how competition promotes trait evolution and the impacts of any such evolution on the formation of new traits and new species.

Finally, I study a striking form of convergent evolution known as Batesian mimicry, which evolves when a palatable species co-opts a warning signal from a dangerous species and thereby deceives its potential predators. Such instances of “life imitating life” provide an ideal opportunity to assess natural selection’s efficacy in promoting adaptation.

For more details on my lab and research, please visit my lab page by clicking on the link above.