The O'Connell Lab works to understand how and why animals behave the way they do. We investigate multiple levels of biological organization - from genomics to neural circuits to physiology and behavioral plasticity - to understand how animals behave. Most of our work uses poison frogs as a model system for understanding the neural basis of behavior, but we also use other animal model systems to ask other questions, including lizards, fish, and invertebrates.
We are interested in understanding the neural basis of parental care. Poison frog species vary in parental care strategies where many have male-only parental care while others have female-only parental care or biparental care. Using a comparative approach between species coupled with harnessing behavioral plasticity within a species, we hope to uncover fundamental principles in how parental behavior is promoted within an organism and how diversity in behavioral strategies evolves across species.
Mating decisions are the substrate of sexual selection yet little is understood about its neural basis. We are interested in the neural mechanisms underlying female and male mate choice in poison frogs. We are particularly interested in the neural basis of male mate choice, assortative mating, sexual imprinting, and monogamy. We are currently collaborating with Dr. Kyle Summers on the neural basis of pair bonding in the monogamous poison frog, Ranitomeya imitator.