Michael A. Bell, Professor

Ph.D., UCLA, 1976

Contemporary evolution, evolutionary genetics


Office: LS023

Phone:  (631)632-8574

Lab Website: Bell Lab Website

Research Summary:

Mike Bell's research concerns patterns of morphological variation in time and space in the threespine stickleback fish, Gasterosteus aculeatus. This species complex is emerging as one of the premier systems in evolutionary biology because it exhibits extraordinary phenotypic diversity (Fig. 1) and has several qualities that make it easy to study. Threespine stickleback are widespread in north temperate and boreal regions and have invaded fresh water innumerable times from the ocean to found freshwater populations. Here they occupy diverse habitats and rapidly undergo adaptive radiation that is highly predictably in relation to food type, predation regime, water clarity, and other factors. Consequently, freshwater populations in similar habitats have similar phenotypes and can be used as replicate samples in comparative studies to infer selection mechanisms and the genetic and developmental basis of similar phenotypes in different populations. Stickleback reproductive and parental behavior have been studied for several decades, and extensive knowledge of morphology, behavior, and life history has been combined in studies of population biology and speciation. The first linkage map for threespine stickleback was published in 2001, and rapid progress is being made to develop specialized tools for research in stickleback genomics.

Bell's laboratory houses extensive research collections of threespine stickleback from Cook Inlet Alaska (Fig. 2) and fossil stickleback from Nevada (Fig. 3). The lab is well equipped to study variation of armor traits and body form, and fish can be reared for genetic analysis or to produce subjects for research in behavior and functional morphology. Bell's research interests include variation of armor phenotypes among lake populations in relation to environmental factors, patterns of evolutionary change on the time scale of centuries in fossils (Fig. 4) and generations in modern populations, relationships between ontogeny and morphological variation and between multivariate variation and multivariate evolution, and transmission genetics. He conducts field research in Cook Inlet, Alaska on modern populations and in west-central Nevada on fossil stickleback. Bell collaborates with genomists and developmental geneticists on the evolution of gene expression during skeletal developmental. By focusing on traits of a well-studied species from multiple biological perspectives, he is studying the interactions of phylogeny, environmental change, genetic architecture, development, and natural selection in determining patterns of phenotypic variation in time and space.

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