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Maren Vitousek

Assistant Professor

photo of Maren Vitousek

Dale R Corson Bio Science Wing, Room E237

Educational Background

Ph.D., Princeton University (2008)

B.A., Amherst College (2002)



My research program addresses how organisms cope with challenges and changes in the environment. Rapid flexibility in behavior and physiology is a crucial component of an effective response to stressors. Yet there is remarkable variation within and across populations in the flexibility of phenotypic traits, as well as in the ability to survive and reproduce when facing challenges. Why do individuals respond to the same stressor in markedly different ways? Why are some populations more phenotypically flexible than others? How does selection shape physiological and behavioral traits, and their flexibility? Our lab addresses these fundamental questions by investigating the function, development, and evolution of hormonal and behavioral traits across differing ecological contexts.

I teach in BioEE 1780: Introduction to Evolutionary Biology and Diversity, and BioEE 4661: Physiological Ecology. 


Endocrinology, behavior, stress, physiology, evolution, phenotypic flexibility, sexual selection, signaling


  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Graduate Fields

  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Neurobiology and Behavior


Our lab studies the mechanisms of phenotypic flexibility, with a particular emphasis on the response to challenges. Many of our members use tree swallows as a model species, with ongoing research in both a large local breeding population, and through comparative studies in populations breeding across North America, from Alaska to Tennessee. Students are also addressing similar questions in other systems, including in captive insects. We are currently focused on five major research areas: 1) Relationships between endocrine flexibility, the behavioral response to challenges, and fitness, 2) The evolution of endocrine traits through natural and sexual selection, 3) How developmental environment, including parental behavior, influence offspring phenotypes, 4) Dynamic feedbacks between the social and physical environment, physiological state, behavior, and morphology – including in the context of social signaling, and 5) Large-scale phylogenetic comparative analyses of endocrine traits. 



  • Vitousek MN, Tomášek O, Albrecht T, Wilkins M*, and Safran RJ. 2016. Signal traits and oxidative stress: a comparative study across populations with divergent signals. Frontiers in Ecology and Ecology and Evolution 4:56.
  • Taff CC, and Vitousek MN. 2016. Endocrine flexibility: optimizing phenotypes in a dynamic world? Trends in Ecology and Evolution 31(6): 476-488.
  • Wiebe KL, and Vitousek MN. 2015. Melanin plumage ornaments in both sexes of Northern Flicker are associated with body condition and predict reproductive output independent of age. The Auk 132(2): 507-517.
  • Vitousek MN, Jenkins BR, and Safran RJ. 2014. Stress and success: individual differences in the glucocorticoid stress response predict behavior and reproductive success under high predation risk. Hormones and Behavior 66: 812-819.
  • Jenkins BR, Vitousek MN, Hubbard JK, and Safran RJ. 2014. An experimental analysis of the heritability of variation in glucocorticoid concentrations in a wild avian population. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 281: 20141302.
  • Vitousek MN, Zonana D, and Safran RJ. 2014. An integrative view of the signaling phenotype: dynamic links among signals, physiology, behavior, and social context. Current Zoology 60(6): 739-754.
  • Safran RJ, and Vitousek MN. 2014. Ecological and evolutionary connections among morphology, physiology, and behavior. Current Zoology 60(6): 736-738.
  • Vitousek MN, Stewart RA, and Safran RJ. 2013. Female plumage color influences seasonal oxidative damage and testosterone profiles in a songbird. Biology Letters 9: 20130539. 
  • Vitousek MN and Romero LM. 2013. Stress responsiveness predicts individual variation in mate selectivity. General and Comparative Endocrinology 187: 32-38.
  • Jenkins BR*, Vitousek MN, and Safran RJ. 2013. Signaling stress? An analysis of phaeomelanin-based plumage color and individual corticosterone levels at two temporal scales in North American barn swallows, Hirundo rustica erythrogaster. Hormones and Behavior 64: 665-672.
  • Vitousek MN, Dor R, and Safran RJ. 2012. Sexual selection: Climatic carry-over. Current Biology 22(2): R61-63.