Painting Olympics 2017!

This year’s lab skills olympics (previously Pooter Olympics–2014, 2015) was focused on our most hand-eye-coordination-intensive task: painting flies!  You don’t actually paint the whole fly (if you’re doing it right…); you paint a small dot on the pronotum.  This allows us to identify individuals during behavioral observations.

4 teams competed in 4 events.  They had to:

Aim 1. Paint as many flies as possible in 1 minute

Aim 2. Paint a fly with as many colors as possible (record = 4 colors)

Aim 3. Cooperatively paint flies (one team member holds the fly in place while the other paints)

Aim 4. Finger painting!


Ben and Emma painting cooperatively!

Fun times ensued.

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The results!  Plotted as reaction norms because obviously.

As you can see, there was considerable rank instability of team performance across painting contexts.  Could this suggest tradeoffs?  Painting speed vs. painting accuracy?  Team vs. individual proficiency?  Clearly, further research is needed!

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Saltz Lab 2017! (some members missing)

Thanks to everyone who participated in this and more mundane tasks, like painting flies for science!  Go science!

New paper! Trait correlations in the genomics era

A new paper, co-written by me, Morgan Kelly, and (former Rice undergrad) Francie Hessel is now up on TREE’s website:  In this paper, we focus on the genetic reasons for correlations between traits, including tradeoffs.  Why are some traits correlated, but not others?  Why are some traits positively correlated and others negatively correlated?  How do trait correlations evolve and/or influence evolution?  How many genes should produce trait correlations?

We review recent knowledge about how genetic variation produces trait variation and puzzle through the implications of these recent findings for the evolutionary genetics of trait correlations.

I learned a lot while writing this paper and it was great working with Morgan and Francie.  Comments welcome as always.


All the symposia

I have a symposium-packed summer coming up and I hope you will join me at some of these meetings!

First up, I’ll be speaking at the Canadian Society for Ecology & Evolution Meeting in a symposium on the role of the social environment in ecology & evolution.

Next, I’ll be speaking at the American Genetic Association 2017 conference.  This year’s theme is “Evolutionary Quantitative Genetics in the Wild” and is organized by Anne Bronikowski.

Third, I’m co-organizing a symposium at the SMBE meeting called “Systems Approaches to Behavior” with Joyce Kao.  Abstract submission is open until February 1.

Hope to see you this summer!  Happy to answer any questions if I can.


New paper!

New paper is out in Heredity!  In this paper, I examine the consequences of genetic variation in social choice (in flies)–if flies got to choose their own social groups, why would that matter?

I assayed the group-size preferences of multiple natural genotypes, and then forced independent individuals from those same genotypes to experience their preferred or un-preferred group sizes.  Surprisingly, flies were attacked by other flies more often in their preferred group size!  This was important because experience of being attacked affected the flies’ later aggressive behavior, even towards a new opponent.

I am interested in expanding this work to longer timescales, in understanding the consequences of genetic differences in preferences for habitat choice and sexual selection, and lots of other things!

What do you think?  Check it out here:

Comments welcomed!



update: Rice did a press release about the paper that was picked up by Futurity and  Also an interview about the paper will be featured on the Heredity podcast–I’ll post the link once it’s live.

Discrimination is unacceptable

As a scientist and person, I am heartbroken by the discriminatory hate speech and violence that have broken out in the wake of the election.

My lab studies diversity.  At least in fruit flies, we find that diversity does amazing things.  It can change the relationship between genotype and phenotype.  It can change selection itself!  Outside of science, I deeply value the diversity of experiences, perspectives, and humans whom I have known in my life, and who are out there contributing to our society.  Targeting people because they are “different” (as if anyone isn’t) is disgusting.

I am committed to valuing and protecting all members of our community.  If you are a Rice community member and need a space space, I am available.  There are also resources available to you at the Wellbeing center.  If you have ideas about how we can stand against discrimination, please share them (  If you identify as a female scientist and want to join our Women in Natural Sciences group, please email me.

Stay safe.

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We have 3 amazing new people in the Saltz lab!  Postdocs Tracy Douglas and Nick Keiser, and EEB PhD student Madeline Burns.  We had a party at Valhalla to welcome them and I did weird things with my arms:


Check out their research interests on the people page!

Be my colleague at Rice! (so many options!)

Are you awesome?  Obviously yes because you are here.  Therefore, you should check out the fantastic job opportunities we have in the BioSciences Department right now.

Tenure-track jobs (yes… jobs plural): we are searching in the broad areas of Ecology & Evolution and in Biochemistry & Cell Biology.  Both of these could include behavior, genetics and neuroscience.  Please apply!  Go here.

Huxley Fellowships (yes… fellowships plural): we are searching for Huxley Fellows in Ecology & Evolution.  This is a unique position that is sort of like a very independent postdoc or a 2-3 year faculty position.  Basically, you get to do your own science, teach, and participate in the department, so it’s ideal for a very independent postdoc. Go here.

I’m happy to answer questions about these positions.
Not convinced?  At Rice…

  • You can buy coffee for $1 without waiting in line.
  • We’re right across the street from the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world with dozens of biomedical institutions.
  • Our students do things like this… (semi-voluntarily!)


And a million other great things!  Like amazing colleagues!  (But that one was too obvious.)  And, in case you’re wondering–no, we do not have “campus carry.”

Congratulations, graduates!


(image from:

Congratulations to Saltz lab alums Francie Hessel, Madeline Adams and Rachel Marren, who graduated from Rice on May 14.

Francie will be starting medical school at Baylor College of Medicine this fall

Rachel will be serving in Americorps

Maddy will be starting her Masters of Public Health at either Harvard or Yale

Congratulations and best wishes on your new adventures!

Saltz lab takes over the Rice Undergrad Research Symposium!

Ok, “takes over” might be a little much, but the lab was represented by 3 excellent posters:

Sam and Maddy present the results of our aggression work.  I dare you to find someone who doesn’t want to hear what happens when you give flies drugs.

rurs_maddy and sam

Raleigh just started a new experiment on re-mating behavior.  He’s already seen lots of variation among individuals!rurs_raleigh

Ben wasn’t able to get flies to learn using a positive associative conditioning assay that has been used by other labs–but it was not for lack of trying.  He plans to start a new independent project next year.


Great job, everyone.