The central themes of my research are sexual selection, mate choice, and the evolution of animal behavior. I complement field-based empirical methods with theoretical approaches, and am currently focused on the evolution of choosiness in males, reproductive competition in females, and the potential for sexual selection to shape female traits.

My dissertation research took an empirical approach to examine the function and evolution of one of the most conspicuously exaggerated sexual traits in female animals: the estrous swelling that is displayed by many species of cercopithecine primates (“sexual swellings”). In collaboration with the Amboseli Baboon Research Project, I used non-invasive field methods to investigate ecological sources of variance in swelling size as well as the function and evolution of sexual swellings. Results from these studies reject a popular—though largely untested—hypothesis for the function and evolution of exaggerated swellings (“the reliable indicator hypothesis”), which has posited that males will prefer females with larger swellings because swelling size indicates heritable variation in female fitness. Our results do not support this hypothesis, indicating that sexual swellings are not analogous to, for example, the tail of a peacock.

When can females evolve sexually-selected characters that are analogous to those we observe in males? Likewise, when we see female-specific traits (e.g. throat patch coloration in females of some lizards, rufous belts on belted kingfishers, abdominal air sacs in long-tailed dance flies), how often should we expect them to arise from reproductive competition? In my postdoctoral research, I am using classical approaches from theoretical population genetics to investigate these questions more generally.

Education and professional positionss

2013-Present:    Post-doctoral fellow; National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Primary collaborator:

                        Maria Servedio.

2012:              Ph.D. Duke Biology; Advisor: Susan Alberts.

2003-2006:   Research technician; Duke Biology.

1998-2002:   Non-academic work; Hetrick-Martin Institute; director of after school photography


1997:              BA Visual Art; UNC-Chapel Hill.


Fitzpatrick, C.L., Altmann, J., Alberts, S.C. Accepted. Estrous swellings and male mate choice in primates: testing the reliable indicator hypothesis in the Amboseli baboons. Animal Behaviour.

Fitzpatrick, C.L., 2015. Expanding sexual selection gradients; a synthetic refinement of sexual selection theory. Ethology 121(3): 207-217

Servedio, M.R., Brandvain, Y., Dhole, S., Fitzpatrick, C.L., Goldberg, E.E., Stern, C.A., Van Cleve, J., Yeh, D.J. 2014. Not just a theory – the utility of mathematical models in evolutionary biology. PLoS Biology 12(12) e1002017

Fitzpatrick, C.L.. Altmann, J., Alberts, S.C. 2014. Sources of variance in a fertility signal; exaggerated estrous swellings in a natural population of baboons. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 68: 1109-1122

Alberts, S.C. and C.L. Fitzpatrick. 2012. Paternal care and the evolution of exaggerated sexual swellings in primates. Behavioral Ecology 23(4): 699-706


Evolutionary biology, assortative mating, sexual selection, speciation, evolution in stage/age-structured populations, life history evolution, biodiversity, evolution of aging, metapopulation, eco-evolutionary dynamics, quantitative and population genetics, simulations.