Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Connecticut
75 North Eagleville Road
Storrs, CT 06269
Office: Pharmacy/Biology 210
I am currently a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut, working in the lab of Dr. Eric Schultz.
My research interests are broad, but my work centers around the physiological, molecular and evolutionary ecology of fishes
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Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Connecticut, Storrs CT
Research Experience: (1) The role of testosterone in male rat sexual behavior, with Dr. Shannon Harding. (2) Avian stress physiology, with Dr. Brian Walker.
My dissertation research focuses on answering questions regarding the osmoregulatory system in bony fishes, that is, the set of physiological mechanisms by which water and ion homoestasis is maintained. Specifically, I am investigating the evolution of the osmoregulatory system using an anadromous clupeid fish known as the alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus).
The reason I have chosen to study alewives is because of their interesting life history. Alewives are ancestrally anadromous - adults inhabit the open ocean and return yearly to small, freshwater systems to spawn. As members of the family Clupeidae, alewives are of a ancestrally and predominantly marine family. In Connecticut, multiple populations of alewife have been independently restricted to freshwater year-round - a phenomenon known as land-locking. Land-locking in alewives provides a unique opportunity to investigate the specific physiological and molecular adaptations made by fish when they transition from living in seawater to specializing in freshwater - environments that require drastically different methods of osmoregulating. Not only does this represent a significant gap in our knowledge of osmoregulatory physiology, but changes to this system that permitted organisms to specialize in freshwater represent major evolutionary transitions. Furthermore, the ecological transition from seawater to freshwater has been important in the creation of diversity among fishes, yet we know little about the adaptations that facilitate such transitions.
My research focuses mainly on the osmoregulatory processes of the gills, since gills are the main site of ion exchange in fish. I explore how survival, plasma osmolality, NKA activity and gene expression at several candidate osmoregulatory loci differ between landlocked and anadromous alewives when challenged in a common salinity environment. Such experiments identify the physiological mechanisms that have diverged between landlocked and anadromous alewives. So far I have shown that landlocked alewives are less tolerant of seawater than anadromous alewives, and have less effective ion secretion mechanisms at the gill. These differences appear to be at least partially driven by changes in the expression of genes that code for ion transporters involved in ion secretion at the gill. Natural selection has likely acted to reduce osmoregulatory function in seawater among landlocked alewives, since it may bear constitutive energetic costs. My current work is aimed at understanding differences between independently evolved landlocked populations, and identifying the genomic mechanisms that underlie differences in osmoregulatory function between the two population types.
EEB 3898 Field Methods in Fish Biology
NRE 2345 - Introduction to Fisheries and Wildlife (co-instructor)
BIO 1102 - Foundations of Biology
BIO 1108 - Principles of Biology
EEB 3247 - Limnology
EEB 4200 - The Biology of Fishes
MCB 5427 - Laboratory Techniques in Functional Genomics
Velotta JP, Schultz ET, McCormick SD, O'Neill RJ. 2014. Relaxed selection causes microevolution of seawater osmoregulation and gene expression in landlocked Alewives. Oecologia: In review
Michalak K, Czesny S, Epifanio J, Snyder RJ, Schultz ET, Velotta JP, McCormick SD, Brown BL, Santopietro G, Michalak P. 2014. Beta-thymosin gene polymorphism facilitates freshwater invasiveness of Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus). J Exp Zool A.
Harding SM and Velotta JP. 2011. Comparing the relative amount of testosterone required to restore sexual arousal, motivation, and performance in male rats. Horm Behav: 59(5), 666-673
Professional Affiliations and Honor Societies
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
American Fisheries Society
Phi Beta Kappa