Jessie Rack

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Contact Information

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Connecticut
75 North Eagleville Road
Storrs, CT 06269

Office: Pharmacy/Biology 211
Phone: 860-486-6154

About Me

I am currently a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut, working for Dr. Mark Urban. My research interests are broadly centered around predator-prey interactions of amphibians, specifically with respect to chemical signalling.
In my "free time" I run, hike, and play roller derby with the Hartford Area Roller Derby.
I'm also on Facebook and have a blog about the interface between science and poetry.


Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Connecticut, Storrs CT

B.S. Biology
Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
Research Experience: (1) Behavioral Response to Olfactory Cues in the Convict Cichlid, Amatitlania nigrofasciatum, with Dr. Simon Beeching. (2) Sexual dimorphism of electrocommunication signals across populations of weakly electric fish, Apteronotus albifrons, with Dr. Troy Smith.

B.A. Music
West Virginia University

Dissertation Research

My dissertation research focuses on answering questions regarding the behavioral responses of spotted salamander larvae (Ambystoma maculatum) to chemical cues from one of its natural predators, the red-spotted newt, Notophthalmus viridescens. First, I will determine (1) if prey behavior differs in response to local predator chemical cues versus cues from a series of geographically stratified populations of the same predator species and (2) whether larvae can distinguish among predator chemical cues when predator origin is held constant and origin of predator diet (spotted salamander larvae) is varied. I also will (3) take a closer look at the identity of the red-spotted newt chemical cue, with the prediction that it will be the endogenous toxin tetrodotoxin (TTX) or a TTX analogue. Other newt species are known to use TTX as an intraspecific signal of cannibalistic predation risk, and though TTX is found in the red-spotted newt, it has not been tested as a chemical signal. Finally, I plan to (4) separate the effects of environment from genetics in red-spotted newts by performing a predator transplant experiment, in which predators will be raised in environments other than their natal environment, and effects on cue production tested with spotted salamander behavioral experiments. This research will examine whether prey can evolve to recognize the specific chemical cues released by the local predator population, which, if it conveyed higher relative fitness in the prey animal’s local environment, would be evidence for local adaptation. This work will add to an understanding of the evolution of predator-prey interactions in an aquatic environment.


Research Grants

2012-2013 University of Connecticut Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department Vertebrate Award
2011-2012 University of Connecticut Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department Vertebrate Award
2011-2012 Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research
2008-2009 Slippery Rock University Faculty/Student Research Grant

Honors and Awards

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program: 2012-2015
University of Connecticut Outstanding Scholar Fellowship: 2010-2013
Beta Beta Beta Alumni Scholarship: 2009-2010
William R. Sigmund PJAS Award: 2009-2010
Frank A. Pugliese "Rock" Scholarship: 2008-2009
Tri-Beta National Biological Honors Society: inducted November 2007. President, 2008-2009, reelected 2009-2010
West Virginia University Presidential Scholarship: 2000-2004

Teaching Experience

EEB 3247 - Limnology: Fall 2011
BIO 1102 - Foundations of Biology: Fall 2010 and Spring 2011


Ho, WW, JM Rack and GT Smith. Divergence in androgen sensitivity contributes to population differences in sexual dimorphism of electrocommunication behavior. Hormones and Behavior 63(1):49-53.