New Innovator Award Application: The Origins and Maintenance of Context-Dependent Behavior AREA OF SCIENCE: Behavioral and Social Sciences ABSTRACT: Often, an individual's behavior depends on its own condition and the environment in which it expresses that behavior. How and why such context- dependent behavior arises and is expressed remains relatively unknown. One common explanation for context-dependent behavior is that individuals who are in relatively poor condition, or are otherwise suffering from diminished perceptual or behavioral capabilities are simply incapable of expressing normal behavior in some environments. While such constraints undoubtedly occur, this explanation does not satisfactorily account for predictable patterns of behavioral variation that are often observed among different populations or groups of individuals. The possibility that individuals who vary in genotype or phenotype might adopt alternative behavioral strategies in a given environmental context is emerging as the new frontier in behavioral research. Distinguishing between these alternative explanations is critical for understanding the origins of behavioral variation. Indeed, explaining how and why individuals express context-dependent behavior can help us understand and successfully intervene in behavioral disorders. Moreover, because behavior is often linked to the transmission and progression of disease, understanding the origins and maintenance of context-dependent behavior has far reaching implications beyond behavior. I propose to adopt a novel model system that integrates the strengths of field biology with the power of the model system approach. By working with a system for which we understand the ecological context of the behavior as well as the evolutionary history of populations and species, I can examine what factors generate environmental sensitivity and evaluate the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the maintenance and expression of condition-dependent behavior within and across populations. In particular, I will evaluate: the ecological conditions that promote environmentally sensitive behaviors; the genetic and neural mechanisms that underlie context-dependent behavior; and the environmental and cross-generational origins of variation in condition and its effects on behavior.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Office of The Director, National Institutes of Health (OD)
NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards (DP2)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZGM1-NDIA-G (01))
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Basavappa, Ravi
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Chapel Hill
United States
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Burmeister, Sabrina S; Rodriguez Moncalvo, Verónica G; Pfennig, Karin S (2017) Monoaminergic integration of diet and social signals in the brains of juvenile spadefoot toads. J Exp Biol 220:3135-3141
Schmidt, E M; Pfennig, K S (2016) Hybrid female mate choice as a species isolating mechanism: environment matters. J Evol Biol 29:865-9
Garcia, Nicholas W; Pfennig, Karin S; Burmeister, Sabrina S (2015) Leptin Manipulation Reduces Appetite and Causes a Switch in Mating Preference in the Plains Spadefoot Toad (Spea bombifrons). PLoS One 10:e0125981
Pfennig, Karin S; Pfennig, David W; Porter, Cody et al. (2015) Sexual selection's impacts on ecological specialization: an experimental test. Proc Biol Sci 282:20150217
Dhole, Sumit; Pfennig, Karin S (2014) Age-dependent male mating investment in Drosophila pseudoobscura. PLoS One 9:e88700
Pfennig, Karin S; Rice, Amber M (2014) Reinforcement generates reproductive isolation between neighbouring conspecific populations of spadefoot toads. Proc Biol Sci 281:20140949
Rodriguez Moncalvo, Verónica G; Moncalvo, Verónica G; Burmeister, Sabrina S et al. (2013) Social signals increase monoamine levels in the tegmentum of juvenile Mexican spadefoot toads (Spea multiplicata). J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol 199:681-91
Pfennig, Karin S; Rodriguez Moncalvo, Verónica G; Burmeister, Sabrina S (2013) Diet alters species recognition in juvenile toads. Biol Lett 9:20130599
Wunsch, Lisa K; Pfennig, Karin S (2013) Failed sperm development as a reproductive isolating barrier between species. Evol Dev 15:458-65
Leichty, Aaron R; Pfennig, David W; Jones, Corbin D et al. (2012) Relaxed genetic constraint is ancestral to the evolution of phenotypic plasticity. Integr Comp Biol 52:16-30

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