University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

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Contact Info

University of Michigan
Museum of Zoology
1109 Geddes Ave
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

1089 Ruthven

(734) 763-8694


Alison Davis  Rabosky

Research Faculty and Curator of Herpetology

Field of Study

Evolution of behavior, evolutionary genomics, character evolution and phylogenetics, herpetology

Adademic Background

I received my Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2009. I was a postdoctoral fellow in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley from 2009-2012.

Research Interests

As an evolutionary biologist and behavioral ecologist, I combine molecular, field, and laboratory studies to answer research questions in three main areas: (1) character evolution, phylogenetics, and systematics (2) animal behavior and evolution, (3) the conservation and management of island endemics. Although much of my recent work has involved reptiles and amphibians, my research interests span a broad range of taxa.

Some of my current research projects include:
Color polymorphism and phenotypic evolution

One of my primary research interests investigates the relative contribution of selection and drift to phenotypic change. Currently, I am using comparative genomics to test hypotheses about color polymorphism and phenotypic evolution within Batesian mimicry systems. My main study system is the colubrid snake genus Sonora, of which all members have varying levels of color polymorphism and mimicry of venomous coral snakes (see photo of four sympatric color morphs of Sonora semiannulata). I have also investigated the evolutionary "rock-paper-scissors" dynamics of alternative mating strategies and throat/belly color polymorphism in lizards.
Evolution of sociality

Another major component of my research examines 1) how social systems first arise in populations of solitary individuals and 2) how and why these nascent social systems may change over time. I have been investigating these questions in long-lived, viviparous lizards (Xantusia) inhabiting the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. These lizards are highly, but facultatively, social, allowing for the rare comparison between social and solitary individuals within the same population. Within this system, I test both the mechanisms promoting sociality and the evolutionary, genetic, and ecological consequences of the transition to social behavior. Press coverage of some recent work: UCSC Science Communication feature, Discovery News, andMSNBC.
Gene flow and population structure across disjunct distributions

The restricted distribution and isolation of island endemics, especially those with sensitive life history traits (long-lived, low reproductive rate), places them at risk for the detrimental effects of genetic drift and reduced genetic variation. However, this isolation often leads to unique phenotypes or genetic diversity of conservation interest to environmental management agencies. In collaboration with multiple academic institutions, the Bureau of Land Management, and the United States Navy, I am investigating genetic diversity and effective population size, gene flow and population substructure, and population stability in several island systems.