Robert D. Reed

Professor Associate Curator of Lepidoptera, Cornell University Insect Collection


I have a general interest in the evolution and development of color patterns – especially butterfly wing patterns.

Research Focus

Our work focuses on the evolution of animal color patterns. We are specifically interested in how novel patterns arise in nature and how they diversify under natural selection. Variation is the raw material of evolution and is the most fundamental determinant of morphological diversity. Little is known, however, about the developmental genetic forces that shape the range of color pattern variation appearing in natural populations.

Specifically, our lab takes an integrative approach to understanding evolution of butterfly wing patterns. We approach our study system at multiple levels of organization, ranging from the developmental genetic basis of color pattern formation to the adaptive roles color patterns play in nature. One of the major benefits of working on butterflies is that many wing patterns have clear field-tested adaptive value, especially in cases of mimicry, camouflage, and mate preference. Furthermore, many butterfly species show significant geographic variation that allows mapping and positional cloning of genes underlying natural pattern variation. These advantages make it possible to study the developmental origins of variation, along with the effects of natural selection on that variation, in a way that is difficult in many model organisms.


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