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Welcome to the Schweikert Lab!


Our research integrates approaches from physiology, ethology, and ecology to address questions about the evolution of sensory systems and sensory-guided behavior.  Our work addresses these concepts from the molecular to the organismal level, primarily by studying the visually-guided behavior of animals in the marine world. For current areas of interest, see below:

Sensory Basis of Dynamic Color Change


Credit:  L. Schweikert

One of the most striking achievements in nature is rapid and dynamic color change of the skin. Diverse animals have this ability and do so for reasons that include sexual signaling, predator intimidation, and camouflage. While this behavior is well-documented, the underlying neurobiology is poorly understood. For many animals, color change appears linked to light detection by the skin or ‘skin vision,’ and our lab is interested in uncovering the physiology of ‘skin vision’ and determining its role in color change along with visual input from the eye. Currently, we’re studying the characteristics of skin photoreceptors in hogfish (Lachnolaimus maximus) and have plans to extend this work to southern Flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) and other animals.

Visual Ecology of Marine Vertebrates

Pod of Whales

Credit:  Wix Media

The perceptual worlds of animals vary remarkably, in part, because their sensory abilities have been shaped by diverse environmental conditions. Differences in the underwater light field (across habitat, depth, and time) have driven unparalleled diversity in visual ability, prompting our lab to ask – how has the underwater environment shaped marine animal vision and how resilient is marine vision to anthropogenic change? Study topics include photosensitivity, visual acuity, retinal plasticity, and color vision, providing opportunity to design projects relevant to both conservation and bioinspiration. Projects have included the study of hyperspectral color vision in the Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) and retinal modifications in balaenid whales.

Forces that Shape Sensory Diversification


Credit:  L. Schweikert

Another focus of the lab is to study patterns and predictors of sensory ability on a macroscale, asking what are the evolutionary, ecological, and neurophysiological factors that drive sensory variation. This variation can be due to selection, mechanistic constraints, and/or evolutionary drift and our lab examines these principles to answer key questions in sensory ecology, including – what factors have driven the unparalleled diversity of color vision in fish? Related projects examine the neural control and functional significance of bioluminescence in deep-sea shrimps, as well as the role of sensory variation in speciation, a concept known as sensory drive.

Approaches in the lab are highly integrative. They include, but are not limited to examination of gene expression (RT-PCR, qPCR, transcriptomics), histology (light and transmission electron microscopy), advanced imagining (micro-CT), electrophysiology, investigation of optics, and behavior. Our goal is to select the best study systems and methodological approaches to address each question at hand.

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