Walking the Walk: How animal movement changes in various conditions

by Francesca Giammona, PhD Candidate at Wake Forest University, Studying biomechanics of terrestrial locomotion of fishes

Sandy Kawano , an s2 Organizer
Haley Amplo , s2 organizer

Alice Gibb, s2 organizer

This year at the Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology 2022 Annual Meeting, there were, as always, a variety of symposia showcasing a diversity of research fields. Symposium s2, entitled “Evolutionary conservation and diversity in a key vertebrate behavior: “walking” as a model system,” highlighted how different organisms walk, and how individual species may vary their walking behavior under changing conditions. These different animals spanned ancient creatures such as dinosaurs, to more modern, atypical walkers such as fishes.

John R. Hutchinson

Concerning dinosaurs, Dr. John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College described how dinosaurs shifted from moving on all fours to an upright, bipedal position over time. As this occurred, many parts of their anatomy also changed. Imagine a crocodile moving across a surface versus a bird – when moving one foot, the crocodile pushes off by flexing the entire foot, while the bird instead utilizes uses its toes to push off the ground. As dinosaurs began walking on two legs, they made a shift from a crocodilian to a more avian walking form. They also began to move their hips more when walking, and developed longer legs and feet to better transmit force to the ground and vault over their legs. These changes allowed them to move much more swiftly, and likely allowed many dinosaur species to out-compete other predators, such as ancient crocodilians, for food.

A guinea fowl standing on a tree branch. Notice the long legs that normally propel the animal forward when running. Image by Derek Keats via Wikimedia Commons.

Somewhat related to dinosaurs are guinea fowl, one of the oldest species of poultry and game bird in the world. Dr. Peter Falkingham from Liverpool John Moores University conducted a series of experiments examining how guinea fowl walk under different substrate conditions. Picture yourself running across concrete – the ground is solid, and as you push off with each foot, you are propelled forward. Now, picture yourself running on clay. It is a bit harder to push off the surface, because as you push, you sink down a little bit and your foot gets stuck to the material. Now try to imagine yourself running on progressively wetter and wetter clay – it gets harder and harder to move. These very same scenarios are what Dr. Falkingham had guinea fowls experience, and he filmed their feet in each condition. Walking was separated into a touch down phase for each foot (where one foot comes into contact with the ground) and a kick off phase (where the same foot lifts off the ground).

Peter Falkingham

Together, the time it takes for these two events to occur is called the stance phase. When running across a hard surface, both touch down and kick off happen nearly instantaneously in these animals, creating a very short stance phase. Both feet are generally not on the ground at the same time. However, when guinea fowl are running across more liquid clay surfaces, touch down and kick off take much longer, meaning there are times when both feet are touching the surface at the same time. For very liquid-y substrates, videos of guinea fowl running look almost as if they are swimming – they sink down so much that nearly their entire legs are submerged in the clay. This work makes an interesting point about where running ends and swimming begins under the right conditions.

Chen Li

Moving away from birds and reptiles, Dr. Chen Li of Johns Hopkins University studied a smaller, less loved creature – the cockroach. As it turns out, a cockroach moving through different types of terrain requires many different locomotor behaviors. Moving through tall blades of grass, up obstacles of different heights, over gaps, or through holes between small, rigid columns of trees calls for a variety of movement types. To get through grasses, cockroaches will actually rotate their body sideways, performing a roll behavior in order to better fit through small holes. To cross a gap or climb small obstacles, they will lift their heads and increase speed in order to achieve the momentum needed to climb or clear a gap. In getting around columns, cockroaches can rotate their legs more outward and upward for better turning. While these behaviors are all technically part of cockroach walking, they are clearly also very specialized for use in specific situations.

Two mudskippers laying on a rock. In this photo, you can see the pectoral fins are angled downward to keep the animals upright on land. Image by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikimedia Commons.

A final example of walking is one that many people would never consider “normal” animal behavior – fish walking on land. Dr. Emily Naylor of The George Washington University studies how mudskippers, amphibious fishes that spend large portions of their lives in the mud, move on surfaces made of different materials and inclines.

Emily Naylor

Mudskippers move on land with their pectoral fins, which are located on either side of the body. They will use these fins to push off the ground and “crutch” forward, vaulting the body over the fins. On very soft, gelatinous substrates, a mudskipper will sprawl its pectoral fins out, holding them further away from the body. It will also spend less time with its fins in the air as it pushes itself off the ground – this is similar to the pattern seen in the guinea fowl, as one could imagine it is a lot harder to lift a body off mud compared to concrete. When going uphill, these fish will incorporate their tail during movement to brace themselves and prevent slipping, and will again spend less time with their pectoral fins off of the ground. By learning the specifics of this walking behavior, it could potentially allow scientists to predict where these fish can travel on land, and how successful they may be in getting to new environments. If you would like to see an example of mudskipper crutching behavior, click here for a video of Dr. Naylor’s work!

It is clear from these examples that walking is a bit more complex than most people would imagine. As animals first came onto land, they needed to find ways to navigate their environments, and using limbs was a worthwhile solution. As different animals have evolved, new methods of walking have come about, and each organism has developed certain locomotive behaviors to best fit their habitat and life history strategy. By learning about them all, scientists can compare and contrast the methods used by different animals, and piece together interesting patterns about the evolution of locomotive behaviors.

s2 papers already in advanced

Advances and Challenges in Paleobiological Reconstructions of Joint MobilityGet access 

Armita R ManafzadehStephen M Gatesy

Integrative and Comparative Biology, icac008, https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icac008

What is Stance Phase on Deformable Substrates?Get access 

Morgan L TurnerPeter L FalkinghamStephen M Gatesy

Integrative and Comparative Biology, icac009, https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icac009

Terrestrial capabilities of invasive fishes and their management implicationsGet access 

Noah R Bressman

Integrative and Comparative Biology, icac023, https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icac023

Connect with Blogger Francesca Giammona


[Reflections of SICB] S4: What can reptiles inform us about our own immune systems?

The in-person and virtual sessions are all wrapped up, we asked students to revisit some of the sessions/authors showcased at SICB/SICB+ 2022 as part of our Reflections of SICB, the first of which is showcased here.

By Gabi Risko, Florida Southern College

The study of immune systems, broadly referred to as immunology, is becoming an increasingly important field of study among biologists, especially during the current pandemic. Countless studies throughout history have focused on the immune responses of typical laboratory research animals– like mice, rats, rabbits, and even primates—to specific diseases and environmental hazards. This makes sense, because studying domestic mammals in laboratory settings can provide a wealth of information about most aspects of immunology. Humans are mammals, after all, so these animals make especially good model organisms for research that centers on pathogens and illnesses that affect humans. However, there exists a bit of a gap in the literature regarding ecoimmunology, or the study of immunology as it relates to factors like biology, physiology, and ecology. The gap widens when one considers how few unconventional organisms, such as birds, fish, and reptiles, are used in immunology research. These animals have unique adaptations that have allowed them to survive and thrive for millennia. This begs the question: can we learn something important from studying how they stay healthy?

Dr. Neuman-Lee with two handfuls of snakes.

The Neuman-Lee lab at Arkansas State University focuses on assessing the immune functions of various reptile species as they relate to external ecological factors. Dr. Lori Neuman-Lee, gave a SICB+ talk titled “Reptilian Innate Immunology: What do we know and where are we going?” for the symposia “Ecoimmunology: what unconventional organisms tell use after two decades”. Her talk covered the current state of research into ecoimmunology in reptiles, the methods that are used for assessing innate immune function, the differences in immune functioning between four families of reptiles (crocodilians, snakes and lizards, tuataras, and turtles), and finally, some suggestions for further research. A broad literature review like this can provide information for those interested in immunology about useful focal organisms and methods that can be applied to immunological research across species. Understanding reptilian immune systems might also pave the way for breakthroughs in medicine and technology, as many reptiles have adapted to deal with dangers (their own venom, poisonous prey, or even extreme environmental conditions) that humans may not yet be able to overcome.

A common side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana) photographed by David Kaposi and posted on iNaturalist. This is one of the main focal animals studied in Dr. Neuman-Lee’s lab.

Neuman-Lee’s work has focused mainly on the effects that environmental stressors have on reptilian immune systems. Stress can profoundly influence how animals, including humans, are able to recognize and deal with pathogens and diseases. With the aide of students in her lab in collaboration with other researchers, Dr. Neuman-Lee has been able to categorize the immune and endocrine function in many reptile species, such as garter snakes, tortoises, side-blotched lizards, red-eared slider turtles, and marine iguanas. She has gone on to test some species for their responses to stressors and diseases that they might encounter in their natural lives. These include pesticides, extreme environmental events like heatwaves, snake fungal disease, and healing wounds. Some of this research could, again, be applied to a human system. For example, if reptile immune function decreases during would healing, it might follow that humans are also more vulnerable to disease when they are recovering from injuries.

A garter snake, another one of the focal animals studied at Arkansas State University. Photo provided by californiaherps.com

Yet another researcher, Dr. Laura Zimerman from Millikin University, has a presentation on the immunology of reptiles. Her talk, “Adaptive immunity in reptiles: Conventional components but unconventional strategies”, her talk focuses on the ability of reptiles to use immune cells that are common across species, like B cells and T cells, in a vastly different way than other animals. The talk’s abstract states that reptiles respond nonspecifically to invaders, which means that they can respond to a wide variety of pathogens without having encountered them in the past. In contrast, humans have specialized receptors on immune cells that recognize specific bacteria or viruses and attack them.  Research into adaptive immune responses like those used by reptiles could help illuminate how the human immune system evolved, as well as how it could potentially be augmented.

Reptiles, of course, are not the only unconventional organisms that might be able to shed light on human immune function. Other researchers speaking at the same symposium have worked with amphibians, sharks, corals, and plants, to name a few. These creatures are vastly different from humans physiologically, but they must also face threats. Their responses to stressors are just as valuable to study as those of the typical laboratory subjects.

Other presenters will focus on different systems for ecoimmunology research, like sharks.

Overall, this is a very interesting symposium! Be on the lookout for articles from this symposium, you will learn about immunology research that spans multiple taxa. Can some of this research be applied to human systems? Yes, but it is also valuable based on its own merit. Each of the researchers and presenters at the SICB/SICB+ conference have worked to add unconventional organisms to the general body of immunology literature, and for that they should be recognized and appreciated.

Who knows? Maybe the next vaccine breakthrough will come from a discovery originally made in turtles. Maybe corals will be the next frontier for drug research. The boundaries are only as big as we make them, and it is exciting to see that people are looking toward new organisms and learning about how they deal with the changes that face every living thing on this planet.

On Cerata and Smorgasbords: The Superpowers of a Sea Slug

by Brent Foster, Whitney Laboratory, University of Florida

Jessica Goodheart

Imagine you’re a child scooping up a jellyfish and swallowing it without feeling its sting. If that’s not amazing enough, as the animal moves through the rugae lining your stomach, you absorb its nematocysts—the hallmark stinging cells of cnidarians—and store them, waiting for the moment when your uncle comes along to tickle you. When his finger prods your side, you release a blast of nematocysts as if they were your own body’s creation, and your uncle whips his hand away with a shout.

While this superpower is unfortunately in the realm of science fiction for you and me, it’s a part of everyday life for Berghia stephanieae, a sea slug in the aeolid nudibranch family. And it’s this superpower that piqued Jessica Goodheart’s curiosity and led her to a post-doc position in the Lyons lab at Scripps Research Institution at UC San Diego.

Jessica’s “big” research question is essentially how does Berghia develop its ability to select nematocysts from its cnidarian prey? Her most recent work characterizes development in Berghia and teases the first hint at how these nudibranchs select nematocysts so specifically.

To understand Jessica’s research question and the various means of addressing it, you need to know a bit about Berghia anatomy and development. Picture a swimming slug about the size of your thumbnail draped in a fox-tail coat—if the ocean hosted a fashion show, Berghia would be one of the models strutting the catwalk eliciting a chorus of catcalls from the other marine mollusks. The exaggerated fox-tail appendages bristling along its back are cerata, extensions of the digestive tract that end in swollen bulbs called cnidosacs where sequestered nematocysts are stored in specialized cells called cnidophages.

“The ability to sequester organelles from another animal is usually reserved for immunity and digestion cells,” Jessica explains. “But it’s not unprecedented to see phagocytosis of other cells—think of the take-up of bacteria-like organisms that gave rise to mitochondria and the origin of eukaryotes. If we look at biodiversity where phagocytosis has become more specialized, we can understand how it works and what we can do with it.” The implication here is that if we can learn how organisms can do these neat tricks, we may be able to co-opt their cellular and molecular mechanisms for all sorts of applications, such as modifying cells to do certain things like take up medicine.

Berghia’s ability to sequester nematocysts also has some broader evolutionary implications.

“These types of interactions are excellent models of co-evolution, particularly at the cellular level,” Jessica says. “I want to look at multiple levels of biological organization. The genes involved, whether they were novel or duplicated to form new abilities, etc.”

Over the past several decades, Berghia has emerged as a model system for studying development and neurobiology. “It’s a desktop organism,” Jessica says, something that can survive fine at room temperatures and has a relatively quick developmental period. These slugs are hermaphroditic but still need partners to fertilize eggs; if the conditions are just right, they can lay eggs every day in a near-perfect spiral ribbon.


Researchers can then follow specific individual animals as they develop. The Lyons lab at Scripps was the first group to establish a long-term Berghia culture and is preparing a paper describing the Berghia developmental staging system.

Jessica began her post-doc position at Scripps in February 2020, just as COVID-19 was beginning to creep across the world. Before long, laboratories around the world were closing their doors, forcing many scientists to continue their research from home.

“COVID-19 was a major hurdle,” Jessica confesses. But it didn’t slow her down too much. “I’m not a developmental biologist by training, so I had to figure out how to handle these animals at early stages and learn different techniques like antibody staining.” Jessica used this time early in the pandemic to train herself how to think about the sorts of experiments she would need to do in order to answer her questions about cerata development and nematocyst selectivity.

When the doors re-opened, she was ready to hit the ground running.

Most researchers studying development in Berghia assumed that cerata develop before the animal fills its cnidosacs with nematocysts. But it turns out that’s not the case.

“What I actually found is that Berghia juveniles sequester nematocysts before the cerata emerge,” Jessica says, describing the development as if the animal were creating an ammo cache. Within 2–4 days of Berghia’s first meal, muscle fibers surround the nematocysts, meaning that some sort of cnidosac structure is there, even if it’s not quite fully developed. This quick turnover—probably a result of the evolutionary processes that deprived Berghia of its ancestral protective shell—means that these slugs emerge from their first meal armed and ready for battle.

After the “when” of nematocyst sequestration was settled, the next step was to figure out where nematocyst selectivity occurs. As you might imagine, Exaptasia—the primary cnidarian food source for Berghia—come with a veritable smorgasbord of cell types: nematocysts, spirocysts, dinoflagellate symbionts, you name it.

“There are two primary hypothesized sites of selectivity,” Jessica explains. The selectivity may occur where the digestive gland opens into the cnidosac, like a bouncer just outside the restaurant who allows entrance if you look old enough and know the secret password. Or the cnidophages themselves may interact with incoming cells, like a bartender looking you over once you walk through the door and asking to see some ID. The simplest way to figure out which of these mechanisms is at play is to record the different cells as they shuffle through the digestive tract.

“The trick was figuring out how to get the animals to cooperate for live images,” Jessica says. “As it turns out, if you can get them to eat while imaging, they usually stay pretty still.” And the videos say it all. Sort of. Symbionts are able to sneak past the bouncer, so to speak, but are ushered out by the bartender cnidophages, suggesting that final nematocyst selectivity occurs by some mechanism within the cnidosac itself.

Armed with this information and the publication of her results in Frontiers in Zoology, Jessica is ready to dive into the nitty gritty details.

“Now we can really investigate the molecular mechanisms of this ability,” says Jessica. “Particularly how the nematocysts are being selected for and being sequestered.” She hopes to begin identifying genes that may be responsible for nematocyst selectivity and maybe even develop a transgenic system where nematocyst sequestration is abolished. With the pending publication of Berghia’s genome, she’s off to a good start.

Jessica’s work in the Lyons lab (@LyonsLab_SIO) complements research looking at symbiosis with other animals. She also hopes to foster relationships with other Berghia labs and possibly integrate information about peripheral nervous systems controlling the release of nematocysts from the cnidosacs.

“Having this community of researchers leads to so many exciting opportunities,” Jessica says, speaking of the bright future for Berghia research and the chance to explore the rich biodiversity, depth, and breadth of features that have evolved in this organism.

Free ICB read on a related topic

The Sea Slug, Pleurobranchaea californica : A Signpost Species in the Evolution of Complex Nervous Systems and Behavior 

By Gillette & Brown


 Connect with Brent via Twitter :   @_brentmfoster    


Brent Foster

B.I.M.S. feature- Secrets of the Sea: A look at zoantharian how genetic analyses can reveal their identity

Associate professor and Program Coordinator Stanton Belford and (Right

This year, the ICB blog and BIMS, Black in Marine Science, will be collaborating to highlight scientists from the BIMS organization. We hope this collaboration will further foster connecting a phenomenal network of colleagues in marine bio and inform our readers about BIMS research as well as their continued work to not only create a network but also a safe space for their members.

This week Associate Professor, Stanton Belford has written about his work along the northeastern coast of Trinidad.

My dad was from the small coastal village of Blanchisseuse, Trinidad, where the ocean contributes to human existence in this rural area. We would travel through the meandering roads every weekend to visit this coastal village, as we stayed inland to attend school. My two memorable moments of dad were him placing me on his shoulders while riding the ocean waves, and him placing water in his hands for me to taste. After a brief moment of displeasure, he said, “you will never forget the ocean now.” That was my nostalgic introduction to the ocean, and an unknowing path in marine science had begun. I am coordinator of the biology program at the University of Tennessee Southern, where I lead undergraduate research and take students to Trinidad to assist me with annual coral reef monitoring.

For many years I’ve been conducting coral reef monitoring on a fringing reef located along the northeastern coast of Trinidad. In fact, the reason why I have stuck with marine sciences throughout my career is attributed to my high school teacher: Dr. Carol Draper who took her class to investigate the reefs at Toco, Trinidad. From this initial experience, I eventually conducted my master’s thesis research at the same site, with the assistance of my mentor: Dr. Dawn Phillip. In essence, the memories of their mentorship empowered my Marine Nostalgia, hence we decided to maintain annual coral reef species abundance and distribution, and though both mentors are gone, monitoring is still being done to this day.

reef flat at Toco, Trinidad during extreme low tide.

 Although the very southernmost island in the Caribbean Sea, the reefs in Trinidad are affected by freshwater flow from the island itself during the wet season (May-December), and also from the Orinoco River in South America. You could say that reefs here are surviving in an ever-changing dynamic ecosystem. However, a relatively recent publication recorded approximately 257 marine species, which provides an updated published resource for this region: Biodiversity of coral reef communities in marginal environments along the north-eastern coast of Trinidad, southern Caribbean (Belford et al. 2019). So why are there so many marine species in this seemingly less than appropriate ecosystem? That’s where the survey of species begins for me!  

Prior to COVID-19, students joined me on these expeditions where we have access to the reef flat during extreme low tides. Student observations revealed that species distribution seems stratified, with regions of hard corals: Porities porites (finger corals), and soft corals: Zoanthus sp., and Palythoa sp. (zoantharians), surrounded by marine invertebrates, such as Echinometra lucunter (rock-boring sea urchin) and Holothuria sp. (sea cucumbers). Many species have variations in color and morphology, therefore making it difficult to accurately identify them. Examples of such species are the zoantharians, which are anemone-like cnidarians, closely related to corals and sea anemones, form colonies of polyps and are widely distributed across these reefs.

I realized these zoantharians were very diverse in their appearance, with variable hues of orange, green, blue, and brown colors. Many have variable tentacle and oral disc colors, and sizes. Hence, I wondered if we have we been misidentifying these cnidarians. Annual coral reef surveys in this region is essential to provide knowledge of what marine organisms are found on reefs, but do we really know what species we are viewing? I had to add another facet to my coral reef monitoring research, therefore genetic analyses would be the next phase of knowledge gained from these reefs. What deeper secrets do the ocean hold?

Through advice and mentorship from one of the world’s leading scientist conducting zoantharian research: Dr. James Reimer, the first scientific article on zoantharian identification for this area was published, Shallow-water species diversity of common intertidal zoantharians (Cnidaria: Hexacorallia: Zoantharia) along the northeastern coast of Trinidad, southern Caribbean (Belford 2021).

Zoantharian diversity seen at Grande L´Anse Bay
Salybia Bay along the northeastern coast of Toco, Trinidad.

Genetic analyses have developed an intriguing method to solve many questions, especially in regards to zoantharians, and is an important way to accurately identify these marine cnidarians. However, this is only one feature of this technique. As global climate change continues to trend in a negative manner, which continues to question the future existence of many species, how will species adapt? In fact, how will zoantharians adapt? The next phase of my research must dig deeper. Therefore, zoantharian symbiont identification within these cnidarians has become a paramount mission, in order to understand how these species will adapt in an ever so changing marine habitat.

The search for new zoantharians at the reefs in Toco, Trinidad
Zoantharians observed at these reefs, which require genetic identification.

Connect with Stanton via Twitter  @StantonBelford

And stantonbelford.com

Connect with BIMS

via Twitter BlackinMarSci and


Tosha Kelly -connecting us to science through art

by Lauren Kunselman, University of Florida

Any seasoned researcher knows that a research paper only tells half the story.  Countless hours of experimental design and optimization, troubleshooting, analyzing data, and interpreting results do not necessarily get included in a publication.  But learning the full story behind the research leaves a stronger impression because it demonstrates the researchers’ determination that is fueled by a passion for science.  That passion is contagious, but if we want others, especially non-scientists, to share it, we need additional avenues to tell our story.  

Tosha Kelly working in the field. Photo by Dylan Bakner

Tosha Kelly, a post doc in Christine Lattin’s lab at LSU, has found a perhaps unexpected way to connect people to science: through art.  Tosha claims that art is a way to express herself, capture people’s attention, and get them interested in science.  Yet at first, it seems that art and science are polar opposites.  Art is about personal expression and evoking feelings, while science demands that feelings be pushed aside so that reality is presented accurately with data and facts.  However, for Tosha, her love for art and science were nurtured hand in hand.  As a child she remembers making homemade notebooks from pieces of paper stapled together and wandering in the woods recording interesting things she found.  Animals have always been her favorite subject to paint, and she used online videos to teach herself watercolor techniques when she was in high school.

When the time came to forge a more decisive path with her career however, Tosha decided to prioritize science.  She completed her undergraduate degree at Trent University, then went on to complete her Master’s and PhD at Western University, where she investigated the effect of avian malaria infections on migratory behavior in songbirds.  She then received a prestigious fellowship from the Life Sciences Research Foundation to study how physiological traits in birds may confer resistance to avian malaria, which she is currently researching. However, rather than pushing aside her painting hobby to a dusty corner where it would be neglected, instead she found that her watercolor painting blossomed during her graduate work.  As Tosha says, “I wouldn’t be where I am artistically without science.”  Her painting breakthrough came when Tosha was forced to miss the thesis defense of one of her good friends due to field work obligations, so she decided to paint her friend’s study organism as a gift.  It was such a hit that Tosha continued to make paintings for her other friends as they defended as well, and before long, she built up an impressive portfolio.

Tosha Kelly holding one of her paintings.

Tosha volunteered to share her artistic expertise with other scientists by giving a watercolor demonstration at the IOB/ICB booth at the annual Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Conference (SICB) in Phoenix, AZ.  At the demo, she showed how washes of complimentary colors can lead to a beautiful blending that is perfect for trying to capture the hues of the Arizona sunset.  In the image shown below, drops of clean water on damp paper were used to make an effect reminiscent of stars in the sky, and the rays beaming from the sun were created by lifting some of the wet paint with a tissue. 

 Watercolor painting Tosha made during a demonstration at the SICB annual meeting.

Another way to create a unique texture is by sprinkling salt on wet paint, a technique that was a favorite among many attendees at the demonstration.  The silhouettes of the cacti in the paintings were done in acrylic paint or sharpie so they stand out sharply.  Learning about the work and thought that goes into Tosha’s artwork gave her paintings a whole new meaning to me. 

Watercolor painting Tosha made using a salt technique during a demonstration at the SICB annual meeting.


Undergraduate student Loni making her own watercolor painting at the SICB journals booth at the annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

It would be a missed opportunity to look at a painting but not know anything about the artist, or the method behind some of the techniques.  Equally so, it would be a loss to read a research paper without knowing the pain-staking amount of effort that went into experimental design, and troubleshooting, and interpreting results.  While we cannot always obtain this information for every painting we come across or every research paper we read, interactions with the creators can teach us volumes.  Everyone has a story, but it’s up to us to find the best way to tell ours.     

Connect with Tosha Kelly

via @BirdBrainTosh

and read her IOB (our sibling journal) paper in advanced via

No guts about it: captivity, but not neophobia phenotype, influences the cloacal microbiome of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) 

T R KellyA E VinsonG M KingC R Lattin

Integrative Organismal Biology, obac010, https://doi.org/10.1093/iob/obac010

and buy merch from the SICB student fund Fine Art America site


& read ICB’s free read on House Sparrows

Epigenetic Potential in Native and Introduced Populations of House Sparrows (Passer domesticus

Haley E HansonBilal KoussayerHolly J KilvitisAaron W SchreyJ Dylan MaddoxLynn B Martin

Integrative and Comparative Biology, Volume 60, Issue 6, December 2020, Pages 1458–1468, https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icaa060

connect with blogger Lauren Kunselman

Book review – The Social Instinct- Nichola Raihani Delves into the Evolution of Our Cooperative Nature

by Amanda Puitiza , Macaulay CUNY the University of New York

In her debut book The Social Instinct: How Cooperation Shaped the World, Raihani closely follows how humans became so cooperative with an in-depth look at examples from across the animal kingdom. From the super organism structures seen in ant colonies to the very cells that form our body, we see examples of cooperation. Humans are unique in exhibiting large-scale cooperation, and Raihani helps the reader navigate the social dilemmas and paradoxes that somehow lead to this.

Raihani starts by questioning how individuals came about and why we ever began forming groups to being with. Do the benefits of group living outweigh the costs? Raihani starts off by looking at the obvious explanations, such as investing in our kin. Yet even between parents and children, there is the potential for conflicts to arise (for example, when one parent gives more or when the offspring asks for more).

Here is one interesting fact from the book: in zebra finches, offspring actually do worse when raised by both parents versus a single parent. This doesn’t right, does it? But it turns out that female finches will slack off more when they have reliable male partners. Raihani draws from many similar examples in nature to explain this cooperation-conflict balance that has allowed for cooperation to proliferate in many social species.  

Along with her scientific examples, Raihani draws on her experiences in the field to further illustrate real-life examples of cooperation. Her experience with not only humans, but many other species such as the pied babblers allows her to make cross-species comparisons that will interest anyone. Pied babblers, for example, conduct their feeding visits to the nest in pairs. At first Raihani and her fellow researchers were puzzled by this behavior, but they soon came to understand that by doing this, the parent babblers were able to minimize the predator-attracting begging produced by the chicks.

If you ever wondered about the “immortality” of mole rate queens or why we are the only species to have grandmas, you will find this book both interesting and informative. By the end of this book, you may look at how humans navigate the social world in a new light.

ICB read:

Identity Signaling and Patterns of Cooperative Behavior 

Michael J. SheehanCaitlin MillerH. Kern Reeve 


(Top). Difference in fitness between a focal production locus allele and the alternative allele, as a function of the frequency p of the focal allele. Y-axis is 1 − p(5 − 9p + 6p2), which when multiplied by (1-a)b, yields the focal allele’s absolute frequency-dependent fitness. (Bottom) The positive feedback loops connecting number of genetically diverse production loci to the investment in cooperation.

Art in Bio- Amir Van Gieson

Art and Science have so much in common-the process of trial and error, finding something new and innovative, and to experiment and succeed in a breakthrough.

Peter M.Brant
Honu turtle by Amir Van Gieson

Since the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, we have set out to periodically highlight the beauty that is still being created by scientists/artists in spite of the upheaval of the last two years. Amir Van Gieson is an ICB social media follower who is actively pursuing his scientific endeavors and artistic ones as well. Much of Amir’s work involves contemporary Polynesian art, inspired by his Hawaiian heritage.

Below, Amir shares with us how he started out as an artist, his process, and his thoughts on how art and science intersect.

On becoming an artist

I have been an avid artist for as long as I can remember, though for much of my childhood this took form through low quality doodles from my imagination. As I grew older, art classes fostered my interest in learning more technical skills to capture realistic elements of nature in my art. In high school, I joined a Hālau (Hawaiian cultural school) to learn more about my heritage which spurred my journey in learning about Polynesian art and tattoo, an aspect of my culture that recurs in much of my artistic projects. 


My favorite medium is easily working with ink on paper. Like many artists can relate to, artistic blocks have often been the bane of my creative process. Because ink cannot be erased easily, working with ink on paper forces me to let go of these inhibitions and take a more dynamic or adaptive process to making art. This is especially important to me when incorporating Polynesian art, as this traditionally took the form of kākau (tattoo) and each mark is permanent.
Starting a piece usually begins with the arduous process of deciding what to make. I try not to dwell on this step too much. But once I’ve decided on an idea, I try to start as soon as possible and think about it as I’m going. In Polynesian art, a form created by peoples without written languages, the goal is to tell a story. And so I try to keep in mind not just the subject I’m making, but the meaning of that subject and how the art will capture that.
My favorite art piece is titled “Ho’omālamalama,” meaning to illuminate.

Van Gieson’s Ho’omālamalama

It is inspired by the Kumulipo, or the Hawaiian myth of creation, in which the world is described as being born from the night. This is captured in the background with the light contrasting the era of night. The human figure is meant to represent Kumulipo himself, the first deity in Hawaiian mythology according to the chant. Like most of my Polynesian art, each motif in the artwork represent important ideas, in this case being the various stages of creation.

Van Gieson’s Rhino

 Your thoughts on art and biology intersecting 

 Combining art and science has been a difficult journey for me as these fields are traditionally thought of as separate:  STEM or humanities & arts. Yet as I continue to develop as a researcher and educator, I’ve learned this binary is far less than I once believed.
From research posters to presentations to inspiring people through art, I have found art both brings a different perspective into science and brings science to different backgrounds. My creative background has made me a stronger researcher and critical thinker. I believe the intersection of art and science is an avenue through which people from artistic backgrounds can be involved in science

Van Gieson’s owl

What advice would you give anyone who has an interest in making art? 

My advice to those interested in making art is don’t overthink it and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Overthinking your art can cause one to inadvertently put constraints on their creativity and so you should think less and draw more. Mistakes are also not only a natural part to making art, but they are also conducive to growing as an artist. Much like how not knowing something and asking questions is essential to scientific research, making mistakes and taking multiple approaches is essential to finding your artistic voice.

Buy products with the Honu turtle image Amir donated for use from our SICB student fund site on Fine Art America


Read ICB and our sibling journal,IOB’s turtle free reads:

ICB –Hatching Behavior in Turtles by Janzen et al


IOB-A Global Synthesis of the Correspondence Between Epizoic Barnacles and Their Sea Turtle Hosts by Zardus


Connect with Amir Van Gieson

UCSB Graduate, B.S. Aquatic Biology | Aspiring Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Researcher | Artist, Marathon Runner, & Hula Dancer | He/Him



A Weekend Read- The Power of the PUI: Working at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions

by Francesca Giammona, PhD Candidate at Wake Forest University

Jason Macrander , PUI working group member for SICB visiting the Grand Canyon with students after SICB 2022

“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.”

Mark Van Doren

The Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology strives to include as many voices as possible in their organization, including people from different backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. This diversity also applies to members’ career trajectories, as leaders span a variety of research fields and job types. One such job type that is perhaps not often discussed by the whole of academia is faculty positions at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions, or PUIs. A PUI, as the name implies, is a higher-learning institution defined as awarding an extremely small number of PhD degrees (fewer than 20 over the course of two years according to the National Science Foundation). One can imagine a college or university with an extremely small doctoral program would be organized very differently than one with a larger program, and the faculty would likely have a different distribution of duties. That is why on the online platform for the SICB 2022 Annual Meeting (SICB+), PUI faculty hosted informal gatherings for those who were already a part of the PUI system, and those looking to learn more about it.

The main takeaway from these meetings was that all of the current faculty at PUIs chose this type of environment very deliberately. At a PUI, the focus is heavily on teaching and mentoring undergraduates – and while research is certainly a component of many faculty’s lives, it is not as all-consuming as it would be at a research-intensive institution. A PUI lifestyle is one that, while laborious when trying to plan course-work, allows for a bit more work-life balance than other academic positions. The campus environments are typically a bit more intimate, and the faculty find that they can make better connections with their students and with each other.

This is not to say that faculty positions at PUIs are a walk in the park compared to those at research driven facilities. Course loads can vary widely, and for those who are teaching a course for the first time, it can be a lot of work to create a syllabus, find pedagogically relevant ways to convey content and engage students, and refresh oneself on any content needed. Teaching multiple sections of a course, or multiple courses for the first time, can be an extremely daunting task. Additionally, when PUI faculty involve students in their research, they are oftentimes teaching students the scientific method and any necessary research skills for the first time, which can be very time-consuming. Turnover of students in a research lab may also be very high, so there is a constant need to train students and keep them up to date on research practices.

On top of this, new faculty must always keep in mind the requirements needed to earn tenure. These may also vary by institution, but typically always include an evaluation of teaching skills, a demonstration of research progress, and some involvement in academic service (serving on a committee, leading a workshop or meeting, chairing a department, etc.). This pressure to earn tenure also exists at non-PUI institutions, but is typically more focused on research and grants rather than teaching.

For individuals who attended a SICB+ PUI meeting and are looking to find a job in this environment, current faculty had some tips. Traditional academic training will give an applicant plenty of invaluable research skills, but perhaps limited teaching experience. Current PUI faculty urge applicants to look for additional teaching outside the realm of the typical Graduate Teaching Assistant – whether that be finding a teaching postdoctoral position, or becoming a temporary adjunct or visiting professor. They also urge tailoring the research experience an applicant has or may want to do in the future to the institution – perhaps imagining ways to change research focuses to incorporate data collection into coursework. PUI hiring committees are not looking for the typical professor application where submissions are touting an applicant’s research prowess – they want to know that an applicant has taken the time to research their institution, learned what values it holds, and can show how they will fit into the existing institutional framework while adding a fresh perspective.

Attendees of these SICB+ PUI meetings all left with important messages – whether it be new knowledge about how to successfully apply to a PUI faculty position, insights about how the life of a PUI faculty member changes before and after tenure, or simply the knowledge that a community of like-minded scientists exists to support each other. By hosting meetings like these, where non-traditional academic voices can freely share their experiences, it enriches the lives of all those in the SICB community.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

connect with blogger Francesca Giammona


Women’s History Month Podcast spotlight- Desde Abejo- roots of stem- Dr. Devaleena Pradhan, ICB assistant ed

Devaleena Pradhan

For Women’s History month, we set out to highlight women scientists currently making history in their field. Dr. Devaleena S. Pradhan, an ICB assistant editor, is an Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at Idaho State University. She is also a recipient of the Dorothy Skinner Award by the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in 2015, which recognizes women scientists in the early stages of their career for high scholarship.

Throughout her higher education, she has been committed to teaching in environments diverse as classrooms, laboratories, field stations, and outreach educational programs. Mentoring has been a big part of her career since she started graduate school and has trained over 40 high school students, undergraduates, and graduate students combined. Many of her trainees have presented their research at both institutional and international conferences, have published papers as her co-authors, and have gone on to successful paths, including graduate, veterinary, and medical fields. 

Recently, Dr. Pradhan was a guest on the podcast Desde Abejo- roots of stem. Take time to listen then read our blog interview with Devaleena below.


  • Blog interview
  • In this episode you talk about the age you have to decide what you’d like to go into in college. What would you tell your 16 year old self about this decision now?

 I am happy I made the decision to study science – I think I would make that decision again. However, I do regret that making that decision also meant I wouldn’t spend as much time developing my art. I think I would try harder to strive for a balance between art and science.

I was amazed that you are tri lingual and you spoke about how this is common for students in India,  how do you feel education differs in the U.S.A. vs India ?

 It is very common for most people in India to be trilingual and in addition be conversant in a couple more languages. While the education system might play a role, I don’t think it is the main factor because there has always been a push towards a more Western education system.  I think it is more to do with society and culture – its more a result of multicultural environment rather than a melting pot. Every state has its own language and in most metropolitan areas there is a mix of people from different parts of India; people grow up hearing several languages socially due to having friends from different backgrounds. At home, children learn to speak in  their ‘mother-tongue’ and locals often expect that people speak in the state language or in hindi, the other official language of India. In my school, english was the main medium of instruction as the first language; the second language in was a choice between hindi and the language that the school trustee spoke (Gujarati) or the state language.  The third language we took until 8th grade was either the state language or hindi, based on the previous choice. In addition other languages such as French, German, and Spanish may also be offered. 

Can you describe a bit more about “learning how to learn again” as you talked about in the podcast?

The way I view this idea of learning how to learn is based first on the context of the material we need to learn, second, on our motivation to learn the information and third, it is about a process that varies across each individual.  To elaborate, how one learns can be modified based not only on prior knowledge and experience, but as a function of how open they are to different forms of learning. Learning how to learn is a metacognitive process that we take to understand how we think, understand, and synthesize information. Taking this approach, we should be open about recognizing that an approach to learning we used earlier in life may not be the best or only approach, rather, being open to explore different learning modalities.  

Your current study is fish that can change sex- what led you to be interested in this topic? (was there an inciting event or observation?) 

I first learned about these fish during my Masters  – I was studying steroid producing enzymes in bird brain. During my literature searches, I found many papers on birds on this topic, but not in any other vertebrate. I always kept my eyes out for new publications about brain hormones and behavior so when a paper on this topic came out in a fish and that too one that can change sex, I was intrigued. I presented it at lab meeting – little did I know that a few months later, i would have the opportunity to meet the senior author of that paper, Dr. Grober, who was giving a keynote lecture at a conference i went to. When i was applying for PhD programs, i was looking for an advisor who was a fundamental biologist and passionate about science education and secondly, a place I could work on a system to study how hormones regulate social interactions. It wasn’t the fact that this fish can change sex that attracted me to this topic – I picked this fish because it has a variety of complex behaviors – and none of those behaviors are fixed. Their behavior and everything about them is very fluid and can change based on the situation they are in. It makes the system all the more interesting because we can manipulate them and put them in odd situations and they can somehow show resilience, or another way of coping – sometimes their answer is to change sex and thats a bonus! In fact another interesting fact about these fish is that they are sex role reversed – dads are the ones that care for eggs, while moms are cannibalistic. These seemingly weird societal norms is what makes this fish all the more interesting! 

 You talked about how fish use chemical cues on this podcast. Can you tell us what implications you think this may have in terms of how pollution affects fish? 

Yes, there are many pollutants that are hormone mimics – that is while their structures are very different from natural hormones, when they enter the body, they can produce similar effects as hormones. This is problematic because these pollutants are often present in very large quantities in the environment and fish can easily take these in through their gills and skin.  Usually even small amounts of hormones are enough for chemical signaling and produced in our body are released rhythmically – that is timing is important, and second, which part of the body receives signals is important. Pollutants that are easily getting into fish, they have a lot of non specific actions. For example, xenoestrogens are estrogen mimics that can feminize male reproductive organs or trigger an early onset of puberty and thus interfere with reproduction. These could potentially disturb chemical cues that fish use to communicate with each other by distorting the signal they are sending.

How and why certain species aggress seems a big focus for you. What drives your curiosity in this?

Aggression is a complex phenomenon. At one end of the spectrum, it can just be a threat or a display and the other end of the spectrum it can be violence or war. This far end of the spectrum is very disturbing and difficult to understand. What drives my curiosity is that I find it disturbing that there is such a high prevalence of organized war or battles in history and even today – we humans with a complex cerebral cortex are ready to kill to rule over others or protect our values or our land. But mass killings are not very common in the rest of the animal kingdom. What drives an animal to take such an extreme route and under what circumstances and why will animals kill each other? In my lifetime, I probably won’t be able to understand the neurobiological correlates of violence in humans, but maybe I can learn about it by studying other species.

How do you feel that your less linear path to your career has helped you ?

I really had to struggle during my formative years when I was out of college with a BS degree but  continued to work at a pizza place in the mall because that meant flexibility – I could do a job and get paid in the evening and volunteer my time in the morning or go back to school for post bac classes so that I could learn the process of science.  I think mainly it has helped me be open to changes and new experiences and also appreciate my resilience and ability to make decisions – very often I have had to be my own advocate and stand up for myself during important turning points. 

Tell us a little more about your work with the This is Biology events on your campus.

It can be viewed as professional development opportunities/ events that are specifically curated for Biology students. We now call it the “This is Biology” series of events. We hope that students will find a sense of community if they attend these events often and get the advise they need to find the path they want to pursue or get information about opportunities they didn’t know existed. The main reason we started these events is that we wanted to ensure students get the opportunity to meet professors and peers in a relaxed environment – so that we could bring down some barriers that could make professors more accessible to students. In doing so, we hope that students will feel more comfortable/ confident when trying to reach out to professors for mentoring and find a sense of community and belonging in science, so that they are less likely to leave their degree (i.e. increase retention of students).

When you told the interviewer about this, you noted that students face many struggles and should reach out. If reaching out is difficult for a particular student, what would you say is a good first step to get them started in gaining some support? 

I think a good first step is reaching out to their assigned advisor who helps with planning courses. If this is not possible, they might reach out to one of their Graduate Teaching Assistants – they might find GTAs more approachable because they might be closer to their age group. They might even talk to seniors in college or those who seem to be doing well in courses. In general, its important to reach out to peers because chances are that others are facing similar challenges and might it help if they share their experiences possible solutions to the problem. 

What pressures do you feel students face in STEM fields?

Society is in general very competitive now and STEM concepts often require more time to grasp, depending on the foundation students have.  Those from disadvantaged backgrounds or without family support might face additional challenges because they may have to work for long hours and may not be able to afford tutors or put in as much time on their assignments as they should.  

What would you like future biologists to know after they listen to your podcast episode? 

 Enjoy your research and put in the time required to build a scientific identity, paying attention to your values and passions. Keep learning!

Additional podcast on Dr. Pradhan

The conversation we had for the Pathways podcast has been posted. Please feel free to share this with friends, family, colleagues, and students! 


Devaleena is also an artist and participated in one of our Art in Bio segments on our blog and has donate this beautiful hummingbird she painted to our Fine Art America site that raises money for student scholarships to SICB


Connect with Dr. Pradhan on Twitter also:


Meet Jeanette Davis-marine biologist, diversity advocate, mentor and author

Dr. Jeanette Davis

This year, the ICB blog and BIMS, Black in Marine Science, will be collaborating to highlight scientists from the BIMS organization. We hope this collaboration will further foster connecting a phenomenal network of colleagues in marine bio and inform our readers about BIMS research as well as their continued work to not only create a network but also a safe space for their members.

For Women’s History Month in particular, we want to highlight women making history and are thrilled to host Dr.Jeanette Davis (@DrOcean24) as our first BIMS scientist. Our interview with her is below.

Tell us a bit about your path to your position in the sciences.  

I grew up loving sciences but never considered being a research scientist. By the time I attended college, I thought I would major in Chemistry and become a medical doctor. However, I attended a Historically Black College, Hampton University for my BS and was exposed to marine science and fell in love with it. I did internships each summer and decided to combine both research and medicine for graduate school and received a PhD at the University of Maryland and focused on marine drug discovery and ultimately helped discover a marine bacterium that produced an anticancer compound. I now use similar techniques that I’ve applied to invasive species and fisheries management in the federal government.

What were some of the parts of your journey you have enjoyed the most? 

I’ve enjoyed the travel and connecting people with science. I traveled to over ten countries speaking about science or coordinating science. It’s allowed me to meet lots of great people, friends, and colleagues.

Jeanette in the lab

In reading about your work, it’s clear you have a variety of roles. In your website profile diversity advocate is noted as one of those. Can you tell us a bit about what you feel an effective diversity advocate does in academia? 

An effective diversity advocate is first open to new possibilities and accepts that in order to create change, you actually have to be willing to do something different. Most often people approach diversity work with status quo which by default keep things that same. An effective advocate is open to change and willing to advocate for it.

As a marine biologist, what would you like future Marine Microbiologist /scientists in general to know and encourage them to aim for? 

I want future marine microbiologist/scientists to know that they get to pursue this field simply because they want to. I want them to know that they are not limited by other’s people perceptions or views but get to show up as their authentic selves and contribute to science. I would also add to build great relationships, and find great mentors

Did you have mentors who helped guide you and offer you inspiration? (feel free to name them here and give an instance or instances) and how did your abundance or lack of mentors drive your career? 

I was fortunate to have great mentors who helped me navigate the field of marine science. Having mentors allowed me to do internships every year as an undergraduate student and I eventually interned in the lab where I received my PhD. I’m still connected to my past mentors. My very first mentor as an undergraduate at Hampton University is now an amazing colleague and we now write grants together which is really excited.

With your own work in mentoring future scientists, what would you say are some of the main obstacles they may face in their career and how would you recommend they begin to address those? 

One of the main obstacles for scientist is learning to exist and do well in a “burnout culture” that constantly wants you to work long exhaustive hours to produce scientific results and publications. This often leads to physical, mental or emotional exhaustion and an unhealthy lifestyle. I often encourage future scientists to allow for time to simply rest and enjoy life. Yes, go to the lab and do great work but also go to museums and find time for family and friends, and the things you enjoy. You’re measure of success is not limited to scientific results and publications and you actually can produce more when you’re well rested. I let them know that they don’t have to have it all figured out now and that there is actually joy in being present and learning as you go.

Jeanette with her books that she has authored

What impassioned you about sci comm for children in particular ?

I grew up loving science but would never simply utter the words, “I want to be a scientist”. I think this is true for many young people because they do not see representation of people who look like them in science and/or they are not taught to connect their inquisitive nature and desire to explore with science. I wanted to fill that void and connect young readers with science through everyday experience or activities in a diverse and inclusive way. I wanted literature that would reflect children’s curiosity and allow them to “see themselves” as scientist.

What upcoming topics are you excited about authoring more books about? 

My first book titled: Science is Everywhere, Science is for Everyone outlines 10 different sciences in a fun and inclusive way. My second book titled: Jada’s Journey Under the Sea exclusively focuses on oceanography which was introduced in the first book. My goal is to continue to develop books based on those initial sciences to help young readers to connect with science and hopefully get excited about the possibilities as a scientist.

Connect with Jeanette via Twitter @DrOcean24

and buy her books via :