Janette Boughman

Associate Professor

Ph.D., University of Maryland, 1997

201 Giltner Hall
Office Telephone: 517-353-8636                                                                                     Email: boughman@msu.edu                                                    
Research website

Other sites:

Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior


My research program addresses two venerable questions in evolutionary biology: How do new species arise? How does selection cause genetic change in nature? Both questions have a rich history in evolution going back to Darwin and the modern synthesis. Despite decades of research; however, we have only recently begun to reveal the mechanisms that generate new species in nature. Recent years have also seen phenomenal progress in understanding the genetic basis of adaptive traits. We are now able to ask questions - and get answers - that were simply impossible to address 20 years ago. Yet, progress in understanding how selection is acting in natural populations to cause evolutionary change at the genetic level has lagged behind. My work melds several rapidly advancing areas to investigate questions of fundamental importance to our understanding of how biodiversity is created, and how it is maintained.

I have two other primary interests in the evolution of cooperation and cognition. Cooperation intrigues me because of our lack of knowledge about the evolutionary mechanisms that favor cooperation among unrelated individuals. With low levels of relatedness, conflict of interest between social partners should be intense, yet many species do cooperate. Why? And how are cheaters prevented from undermining such cooperation? How does social communication mediate cooperation? Previously, I studied these questions in greater spear-nosed bats. We are now pursuing work on cooperation and social behavior in stickleback fish. Some of this work is helping to advance evolutionary robotics. How cognition evolves is another complex and intriguing problem. We study evolution of perception, learning, and specific cognitive abilities (such as spatial and social learning, learned mate choice) in sticklebacks, investigating how ecological and social selection act to generate cognitive differences between populations and species. We also study how evolutionary change in cognition (especially learning) affects other evolutionary processes such as speciation.

I use a combination of field observations, field experiments, and laboratory experiments.  My interests and training cross levels of organization from sensory biology to behavioral ecology to evolutionary genetics.  I integrate these levels in my research to address questions of how communication systems evolve and how this can give rise to new species.

Graduate Students:

I welcome students interested in working on the evolution of behavior, especially those who want to focus on sexual selection and speciation, communication and evolutionary genetics. The main things I am looking for in prospective students is a high level of curiosity about evolution and behavior, good intellectual ability, the ability to work independently, some research experience, and a close enough match in interests so that I can effectively advise them.

Postdoctoral Associates Currently Supervised: 

Dr. Jason Keagy (keagy@msu.edu) Ph.D. University of Maryland. Jason is interested in the evolution of cognition, and the connection between cognition and sexual selection. His thesis explored these questions in bowerbirds, and he is now interested in sexual selection, cognition, and speciation in stickleback fish. His current work includes field behavior experiments and genetic mapping.

Graduate Students Currently Supervised:

Emily Weigel ( weigelem@msu.edu )
Emily is interested in sexual selection, and is working on one experimental project that investigates female reproductive investment, and a theoretical project that explores the loss of sexual signaling traits.

Audra Chaput (chaputau@msu.edu)                                                                                 Audra's work focuses on the importance of male parental care to sexual selection. She asks whether care is 'sexy' - do females choose males based on caring ability and if so, how do they tell which males are good parents? She is also exploring nest construction - how it affects parental care and its genetic basis.

Robert Mobley (mobleyro@msu.edu)                                                                               Robert's work investigates the sensory world of the stickleback. He is particularly interested in multiple sensory modalities - olfaction, mechanoreception, and vision - and how they combine to guide female choice of mates. He combines laboratory experiments that tease apart detailed aspects of sensory-guided decision making with field experiments characterizing the sensory environment.

Representative Publications:

Seehausen O, Butlin RK, Keller I, Wagner CE, Boughman JW, Hohenlohe PA, Peichel CL & Saetre GP et al. (2014) Genomics and the origin of species. Nature Reviews Genetics. 15(3): 176-192.

Lackey ACR & Boughman JW (2013) Divergent sexual selection via male competition: ecology is key. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 26(8): 1611-1624.  DOI: 10.1111/jeb.12173.

Rodríguez RL, Boughman JW, Gray DA, Hebets EA, Höbel G, Smith S, Symes L. (2013) Divergence in mating displays predicted by divergence in mate preferences, not by their strength. Ecology Letters. 19: 964-974. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12142

Kozak GM, Head ML, Lackey ACR & Boughman JW (2013) Sequential mate choice and sexual isolation in threespine stickleback species. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 26(1): 130-140.

Abbott RJ, Albach D, Ansell S, Arntzen JW, Baird SJE, Bierne N, Boughman JW, et al (2013) Targeted Review: Hybridization and speciation. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 26(2): 229-246. FroSpects Gregynog Workshop Consortium, with 15 invited commentaries. 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2012.02599.x