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Tamra Mendelson, Ph.D.


Tamra Mendelson

Office: BS 426
Phone: 410-455-2267
Lab: BS 402/427/428
Lab Phone: 410-455-3477

Research Group


Ph.D., Duke University, 2001
B.S., University of Wisconsin Madison, 1991

Professional Interests

One of the most amazing features of the animal kingdom is the diversity of ways in which we communicate. Nearly every animal species is characterized by a unique suite of signals that comprises a specific “language,” from the colorful plumage of the peacock, to the intricate duets of lacewing insects, to the precise blend of pheromones released by female moths. A fundamental consequence of this diversity is that individuals of different species typically do not recognize each other as suitable mates and therefore do not interbreed. Differences in mating communication thus form a strong barrier to reproduction between species.

Research in my lab focuses on the causes and consequences of evolutionary changes in communication systems. Using a colorful group of North American freshwater fish called darters, we ask the following questions: Why does mating communication evolve over time? How does the rate of communication evolution compare with ecological divergence and other reproductive barriers? (Why) Are individuals attracted only to members of their own species?  Results of past research suggest that in darters, differences in mating behavior may form the first reproductive barrier between diverging evolutionary lineages. My postdoctoral research in the Hawaiian cricket genus Laupala demonstrated that major features of mating behavior (e.g., male courtship song) evolve very rapidly, and that individuals integrate multiple courtship cues in their mating decisions.

Our current research focuses on behavioral evolution in darters, in order to determine whether behavioral differences form the primary reproductive barrier between species, and to understand why nuptial coloration has diversified so extensively in this beautiful genus.


O’Rourke, C.F. and Mendelson, T.C. 2013. Behavioural responses to season and adult sex ratio in the fantail darter Etheostoma flabellare. Animal Behaviour 85: 43-49

Mendelson, T.C. and Shaw, K.L. 2012. The (mis)concept of species recognition. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 27: 421-427.

Martin, M.D. and Mendelson, T.C. 2012. Signal divergence is correlated with genetic distance and not environmental differences in darters (Percidae: Etheostoma). Evolutionary Biology 39:231-241, Special Issue on Speciation

Gumm, J.M., Loew, E., and Mendelson, T.C. 2012. Variation in spectral sensitivity within and among species of darters (Percidae: Etheostoma). Vision Research 55: 19–23.

Williams, T.H. and Mendelson, T.C. 2011. Female preference for male coloration may explain behavioral isolation in sympatric darters. Animal Behaviour 82: 683-689

Smith, T.A., Mendelson, T.C., and Page, L.M. 2011. AFLPs support deep relationships among darters (Teleostei: Percidae) consistent with morphological hypotheses. Heredity 107: 579-588.

Gumm, J.M., Feller, K., and Mendelson, T.C. 2011. Spectral characteristics of male nuptial coloration in darters (Etheostoma). Copeia 2011: 319-326.

Gumm, J.M. and Mendelson, T.C. 2011. The evolution of multi-component visual signals in darters (genus Etheostoma). Current Zoology 57:125-139

Mendelson, T.C. and Wong, M.K. 2010. AFLP phylogeny of the snubnose darters and allies yields resolution at multiple levels of divergence. Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution 57:1253-1259.

Williams, TH and Mendelson, TC. 2010. Behavioral isolation based on visual signals in a sympatric pair of darter species. Ethology 116:1038-1049.

O’Rourke, C.F. and Mendelson, T.C. 2010. Male and female preference for conspecifics in a fish with male parental care. Behavioural Processes 85:157-162.

Venditti, JJ, Mendelson, TC, Bean, BS. 2009. Fucosidases of sperm and milt in darters (Percidae: Etheostomatini). The Open Reproductive Science Journal 2:1-7.

Iovine, MK, Gumpert, AM, Falk, MM, Mendelson TC. 2008. Cx23a, a connexin with only four extracellular-loop cysteines, forms functional gap junction channels and hemichannels. FEBS Letters 582:165-170.

Mendelson TC, Imhoff VE, Venditti JJ. 2007. The accumulation of reproductive barriers during speciation: postmating barriers in two behaviorally isolated species of darters (Percidae: Etheostoma). Evolution 2007 Sep 25;. [Epub ahead of print]

Ross, C.L.N., Patel, R.R., Mendelson, T.C., Ware, V.C. 2007. The structurally diverse ribosomal protein L23a of Drosophila melanogaster functions within yeast: Insight into the evolutionary history of the L23(a)/L25 ribosomal protein family within several insect lineages. Nucleic Acids Research 35:4503-4514.

Mullen, S.P., Mendelson, T.C., Schal, C., Shaw, K.L. 2007. Rapid evolution of cuticular hydrocarbons in a genus of acoustically diverse Hawaiian crickets (Gryllidae: Trigonidiinae: Laupala). Evolution 61:223-231.

Mendelson, T.C. and Simons, J.N. 2006. AFLPs resolve cytonuclear discordance and increase resolution among barcheek darters (Percidae: Etheostoma: Catonotus). Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution 41:445-453.

Mendelson, T.C., Imhoff, V.E., Iovine, M.K. 2006. Analysis of early embryogenesis in Rainbow and Banded darters (Percidae: Etheostoma) reveals asymmetric postmating barrier. Environmental Biology of Fishes 76:351-360.

Eastman, S.D., Chen, T. H.-P., Falk, M.M., Mendelson, T.C., Iovine, M.K. 2006. Phylogenetic analysis of three complete gap junction gene families reveals lineage-specific duplications and highly supported gene classes. Genomics 87:265-274.

Mendelson, T.C. and Shaw, K.L. 2006. Close-range acoustic signaling and mate choice in Hawaiian crickets (Gryllidae:Laupala). Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology 59:770-776.

Mendelson, T.C. and Shaw, K.L. 2005. Sexual behaviour: Rapid speciation in an arthropod. Nature 433:375-376.

Shaw, K.L., Mendelson, T.C., G. Borgia. 2005. Evolution by sexual selection. In: Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation, J. Cracraft and R. Bybee (eds.), Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Colorado Springs, CO, pp. 99-106.

Mendelson, T.C. and Shaw, K.L. 2005. The use of AFLP markers in surveys of arthropod diversity. In: Methods in Enzymology v. 395: Molecular Evolution: Producing the Biochemical Data, E.A. Zimmer and E. Roalson (eds.), Academic Press, San Diego, CA, pp.161-175

Mendelson, T.C., Siegel, A.M., Shaw, K.L. 2004. Testing geographic pathways of speciation in a recent island radiation. Molecular Ecology 13:3787-3796.

Mendelson, T.C., Inouye, B.D., Rausher, M.D. 2004. Patterns in the evolution of reproductive isolation and the genetics of speciation. Evolution 58:1424-1433.

Mendelson, T.C. 2003a. Sexual isolation evolves faster than hybrid inviability in a diverse and sexually dimorphic genus of fish (Percidae: Etheostoma). Evolution 57:317-327.

Mendelson, T.C. 2003b. Evidence of intermediate and asymmetrical behavioral isolation between Orangethroat and Orangebelly darters (Teleostei: Percidae). The American Midland Naturalist 150:343-347.

Mendelson, T.C. and Shaw, K.L. 2002. Genetic and behavioral components of the cryptic species boundary between Laupala cerasina and L. kohalensis (Orthoptera: Gryllidae). Genetica 116: 301-310.

Mendelson, T.C. 2002. “Fish Behavior in the Aquarium and in the Wild” by Stephan Reebs. Copeia 2002: 536-538.