Al "El Jefe" Uy Research Program: The genetics and ecology of signal evolution & speciation

I was born and raised in the Philippines. I moved to the U.S. in my early teens, and earned an undergraduate degree in Integrative Biology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1994. I then proceeded with graduate work in Gerry Borgia's lab at the University of Maryland, College Park. I finished in 2000, and received a NSF Bioinformatics Postdoctoral Fellowship to work with John Endler at the University of California, Santa Barbara. During this time, I started my work on plumage evolution in manakins, which became a major project in the Uy lab. In 2002, I accepted a faculty position at San Francisco State University then moved to Syracuse University in 2004, where I was promoted to Associate Professor in 2009. In 2011, I moved to the Unversity of Miami where I now hold the Aresty Chair in Tropical Ecology.

Email: uy(at)  
Dan Baldassarre Project: Evolution of blood-feeding behavior in Darwin's finches

I grew up in central New York and received my bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University, where I studied fish behavior in Dr. Uy’s lab while he was on the faculty there. After graduating from SU, I spent five years chasing fairy-wrens through the Australian outback for my PhD research in Dr. Mike Webster’s lab at Cornell University. My dissertation focused on how diverging sexual signals affect the speciation process. This research combined detailed population monitoring and field experiments with lab-based genomic and paternity analyses. I was recently awarded a NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology, which brought me back to Dr. Uy’s lab, now at the University of Miami. I will be studying the behavioral, ecological, and molecular basis of blood-feeding in the vampire finch. The vampire finch is a bizarre member the Darwin’s finch group in the Galápagos Islands that drinks the blood of large seabirds. I hope to discover the environmental conditions that favor this behavior, and the physiological adaptations that allow these birds to exploit this unique dietary resource.

Link to Dan's website  
Winter Beckles Project: Signal evolution in Anolis lizard

My first opportunity to study tropical ecology came during a summer research trip to Costa Rica, where I studied bioacoustics and edge effects on the Chestnut-backed Antbird, Myrmeciza exsul. By the end of the summer I had fallen in love with the life and diversity of the rainforest, and developed a strong interest in tropical ecosystems. I spent the following year working in the lab of Dr. Kevin Omland at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In the Omland lab, I analyzed duet recordings of Venezuelan troupials, Icterus icterus, and eventually worked with a team to band and record more specimens at the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Preserve in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. I have since graduated from UMBC with a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences, and joined the Uy Lab in 2013. For my dissertation project, I am taking advantage of the recent introduction of Anolis lizards to explore how animals adapt to urbanization or novel habitats.

Link to Winter's website  
Sarah Cowles Project: Signal evolution in Amazilia hummingbirds

I attended Gustavus Adolphus College in southern MN for my undergraduate education, where I earned a B.A. degree with a double major in biology and math. I then joined Dr. Robert Gibson’s lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I obtained my M.S. degree in biology. My M.S. research project examined the trade-offs in behavior faced by males in lekking systems, both empirically through a field study of sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) as well as theoretically by building a stochastic-dynamic programming model. Between degree programs, I’ve also had the opportunity to work on field projects investigating the sexual selection dynamics of Phylloscopus warblers in the Altai region of Siberia and species recognition in golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows in southern Alaska. I then joined the Uy lab in the fall of 2013 as a Ph.D. student. The overarching goal for my dissertation project is to use a combination of fieldwork, genetic, and theoretical modeling techniques to examine the behavioral mechanisms contributing to speciation in a tropical avian system.

José Hidalgo Project: Sexual selection and signal evolution in cock-of-the-rock

I moved to the US from Quito, Ecuador in 2006 to complete my undergraduate and Masters degrees at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, with Dr Bette Loiselle and Dr. John Blake. I have worked with many organisms including plants, mammals and birds. My main research interests focus on understanding the social and evolutionary ecology of tropical avifauna. I am also interested in the biogeography and distribution of species across time and space. I’ve done fieldwork in the US and Central and South America, including a six-year involvement with the Manakin Project in Ecuadorian Amazonia. The focus of my research has been on the nesting and behavioral ecology of manakin species and more recently I have become interested in coordinate singing among males in the Blue-backed manakin (Chiroxiphia pareola). My hope is to continue research related to evolutionary ecology and sexual selection strategies in lekking species as part of my PhD work in the Uy Lab.

Jason Sardell Project: Hybridization in Myzomela honeyeaters

Upon receiving a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, I worked for several years as a research analyst at a consulting firm in Cambridge, MA specializing in environmental economics and public policy.  During a 3 month sabbatical in the Neotropics, I became fascinated by the evolutionary causes of biodiversity, inspiring me to undergo a career switch in 2005 from a life in a climate-controlled office to that of a field biologist.  Since then, I have travelled around the world, conducting research on the population demography of Swainson's Warblers in the Mississippi Delta, breeding behavior of fairy-wrens in Western Australia, sexual selection among Phylloscopus warblers in the Indian Himalayas, population dynamics of song sparrows in Canada, breeding ecology of Amazona parrots and Aratinga parakeets in Argentina, conservation of harpy eagles in Panama, and metapopulation dynamics of Scottish water voles. I joined the Uy Lab as a PhD student in Aug 2011. For my dissertation project, I am examining the evolutionary mechanisms of speciation using the Myzomela honey-eaters of the Solomon Islands.

Doug Wiedemann Project: Speciation in Melanesian flycatchers

As a kid, I spent 11 years living in Guam and the Philippines and consequently became addicted to tropical and Old World birds. I got my undergraduate education at Pacific Union College in northern California, graduating with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in mathematics. While in California, I spent most of my free time studying waterbird ecology, although I also worked on topics as varied as human-bird interactions and hybridization in Butorides herons. Having had enough of the cold, temperate California climate, in August 2012 I joined the Uy lab at the University of Miami with the hope of returning to Asia/Oceania to study avian speciation.

Jamie Waite Project: Functional tests of candidate genes for melanism

After receiving my Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Carroll University, I spent 4 years at the University of Southern California working as a lab technician and a graduate student.  My research included 1) determining the microbial diversity within the ocean floor, 2) determining the function of genes in Marinobacter aquaeolei and 3) understanding the TGF-beta pathway in palatogenesis in neonatal mice.  I moved to Miami in 2013 and began working in a lab, which focuses on how developmental processes and patterning are regulated during embryogenesis of zebrafish. I primarily worked on generating expression plasmids using the tol2 system.  I am now working as a lab technician in the Uy lab using the tol2 system and many other molecular techniques to do a functional analysis on genes for melanism.  


Floria "La Jefa" Mora-Kepfer Project: Evolution of sociality and neural complexity in insects/structural basis of convergent plumage color


I was born in San José, Costa Rica where I obtained a B.S. and M.Sc in biology focusing on behavioral ecology of insects. I then relocated to the US to complete my doctoral studies on the evolution of animal societies and social behavior at UM. My research is centered on understanding the relationship between brain development and sociality in animals: How do social animals process information from their environment to make decisions that enhance their survival and reproductive success? In animal societies where group members are constantly interacting, how do these interactions shape brain architecture and function?

I am currently collaborating with the Uy lab in several projects, including: 1) understanding  context-dependent colony formation and alternative reproductive tactics of females in primitively eusocial wasps, 2) characterizing the insect diversity across islands to estimate resource abundance in the diet of Monarcha castaneiventris flycatchers in the Solomon Islands, and 3) exploring the underlying nano-structure basis of convergent plumage color in Monarcha flycatchers.

Link to Floria's Lab Group  
Jaime "DJ Scandanz" Chaves Project: Genomics of adaptive radiation in Darwin's finches

Jaime was a postdoc in the Uy Lab. He is now an Assistant Professor at the University of San Francisco, Quito, Ecuador. He is continuing his collaboration with the Uy Lab studying the role of interspecific hybridization in the radiation of Darwin's finches.

I moved to the US from my home country Ecuador in 2002 to obtain my MS at San Francisco State University and PhD from University of California, Los Angeles, both degrees in Evolutionary Biology. I then moved to Las Vegas for a two-year postdoctoral work at UNLV to continue my work on avian phylogeography. My main interest is studying the mode and tempo of the diversification of Neotropical birds. My research uses sequence data to construct evolutionary trees and an array of phylogenetic statistical methods to test evolutionary and biogeographic hypotheses. Most of my research has focused on hummingbirds from South America, yellow warblers from the Galapagos Islands and most recently, the widely distributed house wren complex. My collaobration in the Uy lab uses new high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies to examine the evolutionary origin of species divergence in the iconic adaptive radiation of Darwin's finches from the Galapagos Islands.

Elizabeth Cooper Project: Genomic Patterns of Species Divergence in Flycatchers of the Solomon Islands

Liz was a postdoc in the Uy Lab. She recently moved to Clemson University to start a new postdoc. Liz is continuing her collaboration with the Uy Lab on projects exploring the genomics of speciation in Tropical birds.

I first became interested in speciation genetics while I was an undergraduate at Grinnell College, where I was involved in a project investigating the transition from outcrossing to selfing in the plant Clarkia xantiana and C. parviflora. After graduating from Grinnell in 2003 with a B.A. in Biology, I went on to work as a lab technician in Magnus Nordborg’s lab at the University of Southern California. Later, I became a graduate student in the same lab, and my dissertation research focused on using next generation sequencing technology to perform a whole genome scan for speciation genes in two varieties of flowering columbine: Aquilegia formosa and A. pubescens. I received my Ph.D. from USC in January 2011, and came to the University of Miami as a postdoc shortly thereafter. In the Uy lab, I am using RAD Illumina data to explore the genomics of speciation in island in flycatchers.


Nathan Dappen Project: the Incipient Species Project

Nate Dappen is a biologist, photographer and filmmaker based in Highland Park, New Jersey. He completed his Ph.D in May of 2012 in the University of Miami's Department of Biology. He earned his Ph.D. studying the evolution of color in the Ibiza Wall Lizard. Nate got is undergraduate training at the University of Colorado, Boulder where he studied biology and photography, and has divided his time between science and photography ever since. Nate and Neil (see below) founded Day's Edge Production, and have received funding from the National Science Foundation to develop a documentary on the Uy lab's work in the Solomon Islands.

Link to Day's Edge Productions  
Neil Lossin Project: the Incipient Species Project

Neil Losin is a biologist, photographer, and filmmaker based in Boulder, Colorado. In June 2012, he received his Ph.D. in Biology from UCLA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, where he studied the evolution of territoriality in invasive lizards. His scientific expertise includes evolution, ecology, and animal behavior. Neil is also an award-winning photographer and science writer, and has been making science and natural history films since 2010. Nate (see above) and Neil founded Day's Edge Production, and have received funding from the National Science Foundation to develop a documentary on the Uy lab's work in the Solomon Islands.

Link to Day's Edge Productions  
Stephen Cutie Project: Populations genetics of island wasps (collaboration with Dr. Mora-Kepfer)
I am currently an undergraduate Biology student at the University of Miami. I have worked in a genomics and a microbiology lab in the past at Miami-Dade College and Barry University, respectively. I currently work in the lab of Drs. Al Uy and Floria Mora-Kepfer at UM, studying the population genetics of social wasps across the Solomon Islands. My long-term goal is to perform research and investigate tissue regeneration and macrophages.
Christine DeSilva Project: Populations genetics of island wasps (collaboration with Dr. Mora-Kepfer)
I am currently a junior at the University of Miami majoring in Biology and minoring in Marine Science and Photography. In 2012, I worked in Dr. Stephan Zuchner’s lab at the Miller School of Medicine studying Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease. Ever since I was little, I have had a connection with the natural world and have wanted to study it. During the summer of 2013 I took the Solomon Islands Field Course led by Drs. Uy and Mora-Kepfer. There, I learned a lot about field biology and island ecology. As a result of this experience, now I am involved in research studying population genetics of wasps collected during our trip. In the future I hope to be able to meld my two strongest passions, photography and science, together in order to educate the public.
Daniel Franco Project: Populations genetics of island wasps (collaboration with Dr. Mora-Kepfer)

Born and raised in Miami, Florida, I received my B.S. in Biology from the University of Miami. My first experience with field biology came through Drs. Al Uy and Floria Mora-Kepfer’s field course in the Solomon Islands. It was such an amazing experience that I knew I had to join their lab to work on some of the field data collected from that trip. I assist Dr. Mora-Kepfer in our study exploring the population genetics of social wasps from the Solomon Islands. Currently I am continuing my research in the lab and hope to apply for medical school in the summer.

Nicole Palma Project: Population genetics of the Ibiza Wall Lizard

I am a  senior at the University of Miami double majoring in Biology and Ecosystem Science and Policy, with a minor in Psychology. I have lived in South Florida my entire life and have always cared about animals and the environment. I grew up outside hunting, fishing, and camping. Therefore, I have a great appreciation for nature. I joined the Uy Lab after taking Al’s Ecology class my  sophomore year. I am now doing research on the population genetics of the Ibiza Wall Lizard, attempting to determine the evolutionary history of this variable species comple. In the future, I plan to continue doing field research and conservation work.

Students in the field
For the past seven years, graduate and undergraduate students participated in my lab, conducting their own research projects. Click on this link for information on who they are and where they are now: Alumni