Hopi Hoekstra is a professor and researcher at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Specifically, she is a Professor of Zoology in the departments of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, as well as Molecular and Cellular Biology. In addition, she is also the Curator of Mammals at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Her research is mainly revolved around understanding all the various causes of evolutionary change. Moreover, her research’s focal point is identifying traits that affect organisms’ overall fitness levels.
One of Hoekstra’s papers discusses how stripe patterns in rodents can be caused by certain developmental mechanisms.
The specific rodent in this study was the African striped mouse (scientific name: Rhabdomys pumilio). The researchers figured out that their stripe patterns are produced by differences in the maturation of melanin-producing cells. The results for the study showed that there was a formerly undisclosed mechanism for stripe pattern variations. This is important in ecology and what we have been studying, because it helps determine how such traits affect the fitness of different individuals.
Another one of Hoekstra’s papers explores the recognition of particular mutations in order to fully understand what drives adaptive change in phenotypes. By using plastic mice in the field, the researchers were able to figure out that the mice with light coats (who recently settled in the light-colored soil of the Nebraska Sand Hills) yielded a clear selective advantage against predators who are dependent on their vision for hunting. Their results showed that the local adaptation was the result of many mutations that seemed to have happened inside a single locus.
This is relevant to what we are learning about in class because it shows how animal prey are able to evolve their own defenses against predators.
The last paper of Hoekstra’s that I am going to mention revolves around accelerated evolution of reproductive traits that can affect fitness. For this study, researchers investigated differing copulating systems of two sister species of Peromyscus mice. What they found was that the indiscriminately sexually active species produced sperm that had longer midpieces than the monogamous species did. They also found that midpiece size is associated with competitive capabilities and swimming efficiency. This is substantial in the study of ecology and corresponds to what we have studied, because it correlates with not only competition, but also reproductive effort. Competition is an essential aspect within ecology because it ensures the survival of the individuals who have the highest fitness.