• Evolution of ecological novelty
    Why does scale-eating rarely evolve in Caribbean pupfishes?
  • Sympatric speciation in volcanic crater lakes
    Cast-netting for endemic cichlids in Lake Kotto, Cameroon
  • Measuring the adaptive landscape
    How does the architecture of the genotype/phenotype/fitness landscape shape adaptive diversification?
  • Evolutionary diversification rates
    Pupfish heat map illustrating diversification rates in a sympatric radiation relative to background rates

About the lab

Welcome to the Martin fish speciation lab! We are evolutionary biologists broadly interested in the ecology and evolution of adaptive radiation. We use large-scale field experiments, population genomics, ecological variation, behavioral ecology, functional morphology, and phylogenetic comparative methods to dissect this process at various stages.

We are primarily developing two tropical field systems for studying the origins of adaptive radiation: 1) Caribbean pupfishes which contain remarkably localized radiations and 2) Cameroon crater lake cichlids, famous as putative examples of sympatric speciation.

Common themes in our work include 1) the origins of adaptive radiation, 2) mechanisms driving this process in the context of the adaptive landscape, and 3) the evolution of novelty.

If you are intrigued by the speciation process, drawn to tropical field systems, or you have a particular thing about fish, I strongly encourage you to contact me!

I am currently accepting graduate students through UNC's Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology graduate program, which is described here (annual admissions deadline is December 1st). For those considering a PhD, I would suggest reading the excellent perspectives here and here.

If you are interested in joining the lab as a postdoc please contact me. UNC has two in-house fellowship programs: SPIRE and the Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity.

Lab Members

Christopher Martin

Principal Investigator

Curriculum Vitae


Recorded talks: Evolution, 2017

Evolution, 2016

UC Berkeley, 2015

Contact me

Joe McGirr

Graduate Student

I study three rapidly diversifying species of Cyprinodon pupfishes endemic to San Salvador Island to understand the genetic basis of novel traits. I also have a mammalian study system at home. My two cats, Theo and Zhansky, named after my favorite mid-20th century Russian evolutionary empiricist -- Theodosius Dobzhansky. Contact me

Lab papers: McGirr JA, Martin CH. 2016. Novel candidate genes underlying extreme trophic specialization in Caribbean pupfishes. Molecular Biology and Evolution pdf. supplement. ScienceDaily.

Emilie Richards

Graduate Student

I am broadly interested in how adaptation and speciation processes interact on a genomic level during adaptive radiations and how we harness the powerful resource of genomic data to address questions about evolutionary history. I am currently working on identifying the sources of genetic variation that fueled adaptive diversification in a radiation of trophic specialist pupfishes on a single island in the Bahamas. When I am not busy typing away at my computer, my hobbies include recreational scuba diving and watching nature documentaries with my cat. Contact me

Lab papers: Richards EJ, Martin CH. 2017. Adaptive introgression from distant Caribbean islands contributed to the diversification of a microendemic radiation of trophic specialist pupfishes. PLOS Genetics pdf. ScienceDaily.

Michelle St. John

Graduate Student

I am interested in investigating the speciation process through the lens of fish behavior. This involves studying behavioral differences between diverging species, exploring interactions between species, and ultimately determining how these differences and interactions affect the evolution of reproductive isolation. When I am not observing fish, I enjoy cooking with my husband and hanging out with my two cats (Tulip and Alfalfa). Contact me

Katelyn Gould

Co-advised Graduate Student

I'm an avid adventurer interested in combining my passion for diving, science, and music to engage communities in marine ecosystem conservation, specifically coral reefs and mangroves. My research is focused on ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that increase resistance and resilience to climate driven bleaching events in reef building corals. Contact me *Co-advised with John Bruno

Logan Buie

Lab Manager

I’m a lifelong biology nerd planning to attend grad school to study the stress responses of marine invertebrates to multiple stressors associated with climate change. When I’m not hanging out with the fish in the lab or pipetting away, I enjoy baking pastries and being a foster mom to some awesome rescue dogs. Contact me

Clare Bocklage

Undergraduate Student

I am interested in field conservation as well as prehistoric life and the study of evolution. My current project focuses on the lateral line system in Stomatepia Cameroon cichlids. My picture is from my time in the British Virgin Islands working to promote the conservation of the endangered Anegada Iguana.

Stephanie Jeselson

Undergraduate Student

I have had a lifelong interest in ichthyology and have worked primarily with freshwater tropical fish. In the lab, I provide daily care and maintenance for the research population. My research interests include behavioral and morphological adaptations in fish.

Group Photos

Pupfish collecting trip to Fort Fisher, NC

Pup-fishing in Great Lake, San Salvador Island, Bahamas

March for Science 2017 (guess which 2 are lab members!)


Jelmer Poelstra

Postdoctoral scholar 2016-2017

Demographics of diversification in Cameroon crater lake cichlids. Currently a postdoc in Anne Yoder's lab at Duke University


Google scholar profile

*Graduate students

Richards EJ*, Martin CH. 2017. Adaptive introgression from distant Caribbean islands contributed to the diversification of a microendemic radiation of trophic specialist pupfishes. PLOS Genetics 13:e1006919. pdf. ScienceDaily.

Stager JC, Alton K, Martin CH, King DT, Livingstone DT. On the age and origin of Lake Ejagham and its endemic fishes. 2017. Quaternary Research. 1-12. pdf.

Martin CH, Höhna S, Crawford JE, Turner BJ, Richards EJ, Simons LH. 2017. The complex effects of demographic history on the estimation of substitution rate: concatenated gene analysis results in no more than twofold overestimation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 284:20170537. pdf.

Martin CH, Erickson PA, Miller CT. 2017. The genetic architecture of novel trophic specialists: higher effect sizes are associated with exceptional oral jaw diversification in a pupfish adaptive radiation. Molecular Ecology 26:624-638. pdf. supplement.

McGirr JA*, Martin CH. 2016. Novel candidate genes underlying extreme trophic specialization in Caribbean pupfishes. Molecular Biology and Evolution 34:873-888. pdf. supplement. Phys.org article. ScienceDaily.

Martin CH. 2016. The cryptic origins of evolutionary novelty: 1,000-fold-faster trophic diversification rates without increased ecological opportunity or hybrid swarm. Evolution 70:2504-2519. pdf. supplement. cover article.

Higham TE, Rogers SM, Langerhans RB, Jamniczky HA, Lauder GV, Stewart WJ, Martin CH, Reznick DN. 2016. Speciation through the lens of biomechanics: locomotion, prey capture, and reproductive isolation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283:1294-1304. pdf.

Martin CH. 2016. Context-dependence in complex adaptive landscapes: frequency and trait-dependent selection surfaces within an adaptive radiation of Caribbean pupfishes. Evolution 69:1406-1422. pdf. supplement.

Martin CH, Crawford JE, Turner BJ, Simons LH. 2016. Diabolical survival in Death Valley: recent pupfish colonization, gene flow, and genetic assimilation in the smallest species range on earth. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283:23-34. pdf. supplement. Media: Nature. Science. Science Magazine. BBC. Discovery News. New Scientist. Quirks and Quarks CBC radio interview

Martin CH, Cutler JS, Friel JP, Dening Touokong C, Coop G, Wainwright PC. 2015. Complex histories of repeated gene flow in Cameroon crater lake cichlids cast doubt on one of the clearest examples of sympatric speciation. Evolution 69:1406-1422. pdf. Jerry Coyne's celebratory blog posts: 1 2

Musilová Z, Indermaur A, Nyom ARB, Tropek R, Martin CH, Schliewen UK. 2014. Persistence of Stomatepia mongo, an endemic cichlid fish of the Barombi Mbo Crater Lake, Southwestern Cameroon, with notes on its life history and behavior. Copeia 2014:556-560. pdf.

Martin CH, Feinstein LC. 2014. Novel trophic niches drive variable progress toward ecological speciation within an adaptive radiation of pupfishes. Molecular Ecology. 23: 1846-1862. pdf.

Martin CH, Wainwright PC. 2013. A remarkable species flock of Cyprinodon pupfishes endemic to San Salvador Island, Bahamas. Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History. 54:231-240. pdf.  Media: UC Davis blog, Seriously Fish.

Schmitz L, Motani R, Oufiero CE,Martin CH, McGee MD, Wainwright PC. 2013. Potential enhanced ability of giant squid to detect sperm whales is an exaptation tied to their large body size. BMC Evolutionary Biology 13:226. pdf.

Friedman M, Keck BP, Dornburg A, Eytan RI, Martin CH, Hulsey CD, Wainwright PC, Near TJ. 2013. Molecular and fossil evidence place the origin of cichlid fishes long after Gondwanan rifting. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 280:1770. pdf.

Martin CH, Wainwright PC. 2013. On the measurement of ecological novelty: scale-eating pupfish are separated by 168 million years from other scale-eating fishes. PLOS One 8:e71164. pdf.

Martin CH. 2013. Strong assortative mating by diet, color, size, and morphology but limited progress toward sympatric speciation in a classic example: Cameroon crater lake cichlids. Evolution 67:2114-2123. pdf.

Martin CH, Wainwright PC. 2013. Multiple fitness peaks on the adaptive landscape drive adaptive radiation in the wild. Science 339:208-211. link to pdf.  supplement. press release. Please email me for pdf if you cannot access. Media: Carl Zimmer's blog The Loom. Seriously Fish. Der Spiegel. Nothing in Biology Makes SenseWhyFiles. Davis Enterprise.

Schmitz L, Motani R, Oufiero CE, Martin CH, McGee MD, Gamarra AR, Lee JJ, Wainwright PC. 2013. Allometry indicates giant eyes of giant squid are not exceptional. BMC Evolutionary Biology 13:45. pdf.

Martin CH. 2012. Weak disruptive selection and incomplete phenotypic divergence in two classic examples of sympatric speciation: Cameroon crater lake cichlids. American Naturalist 180:E90-109. pdf. supplement. press release. data.

Martin CH, Wainwright PC. 2011. Trophic novelty is linked to exceptional rates of morphological diversification in two adaptive radiations of Cyprinodon pupfishes. Evolution 65:2197-2212. pdf. supplement. press release. F1000. Media: MSNBC. UC Davis Aggie. Practical Fishkeeping. KillieNutz. LiveScience. anti-evolution press: Lutheran and spoof attack.

Martin CH. 2010. Unexploited females and unreliable signals of male quality in a Malawi cichlid bower polymorphism. Behavioral Ecology 21:1195-1202. pdf. supplement. Figs S1 S2

Martin CH, Genner MJ. 2009. A role for male bower size as an intrasexual signal in a Lake Malawi cichlid fish. Behaviour 146:963-978. pdf.

Martin CH, Genner MJ. 2009. High niche overlap between two successfully coexisting pairs of Lake Malawi cichlids.  Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 66:579-588. pdf. supplement.

Martin CH, Johnsen S. 2007. A field test of the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis in the guppy Poecilia reticulata. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 61:1897-1909. pdf.

Yang AS, Martin CH, Nijhout HF. 2004. Geographic variation of caste structure among ant populations. Current Biology 14: 514-519. pdf.


Cameroon 2016

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Bahamas 2015

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Bahamas 2014

Bahamas 2013

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Death Valley 2012

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Bahamas 2011

Dominican Republic 2011

Limia perugiae collected from Lago Enriquillo.

Cameroon 2010

Sarotherodon knauerae, previously S.

Mexico 2009

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Bahamas 2008

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Malawi 2006-2007

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Madagascar 2005

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Peru 2004

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Trinidad 2004

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Costa Rica 2003

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