Dr. Jeff McKinnon

Title: Professor, Chair
Area of Study: Evolution - sexual selection, speciation, mainly in fish
Phone: 252-328-5258
Fax: 252-328-4178
Office: N108 Howell Science
Address: Department of Biology
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858


Ph.D.: Dept. of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 1994.

M.Sc.: Zoology (Marine Ecology), University of Guelph, Canada, 1988.

B.Sc.: Honors Zoology, University of British Columbia, Canada, 1984.

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Research Interests:

1. The Evolution of Female Display Traits: We noticed that many female sticklebacks had conspicuous red throats in one of our study populations and became interested in the evolution of such traits. This is currently the main project for students in my laboratory (although work on the other two areas described below is ongoing). As part of this effort, Katie Peichel (Washington) and I are collaborating on a study of the molecular genetic basis of female coloration that will take advantage of some of the training I have received in stickleback genomics. Other approaches we are pursuing include behavioral experiments on mate choice and intra-sexual interactions, and comparative work on hormones, color and behavior (part of Lengxob Yong’s PhD work).

2. Color Polymorphism Maintenance and Speciation: We have been conducting theoretical, synthetic and empirical work on the maintenance of color polymorphisms and their potential contribution to speciation. Our empirical work has focused mainly on the telmatherinid fishes of Sulawesi's Malili Lakes (Indonesia). I feel particularly connected to this place because I first started traveling there as a teenager, to visit two of my uncles who were working at a Canadian mine in the area. I have also been involved in conservation efforts there. Suzanne Gray did a very nice Ph.D. on this system (at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia) with Larry Dill and myself as her co-advisors.

3. The Evolution of Reproductive Isolation through Divergent Ecological Selection: This work is focused on ecology's role, through natural and sexual selection, in the evolution of reproductive isolation. Our main study organism is the threespine stickleback, in particular stream-resident and anadromous populations from a wide variety of locales. This work has involved a large number of collaborators around the world, but especially Dolph Schluter (U.B.C.) and David Kingsley (Stanford). Recently we have begun work on related issues in a North Carolina species, the banded killifish.

Publications (*student or grade school teacher):

Yong, L., Woodall*, B., Pierotti, M.E.R. and McKinnon, J.S. Accepted pending revision. Intrasexual competition and ornament evolution in female threespine sticklebacks. Behavioral Ecology.

Wright, D.S., M.E. Pierotti, H. Rundle and J.S. McKinnon In Press 2015. Conspicuous female ornamentation and male mate preference in threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus). Public Library of Science One.

McKinnon, J.S. and M. Servedio 2013. Novelty makes the heart grow fonder. Nature (News and Views). 503: 44-45.

Yong*, L., Guo*, R., Wright*, D.S., Mears*, S., Pierotti, M. and J.S. McKinnon 2013. Correlates of red throat coloration in female sticklebacks and their potential evolutionary significance. Evolutionary Ecology Research 15: 453-472.

Herder, F., U.K. Schliewen, M. F. Geiger, R. K. Hadiaty, S. Gray*, J.S. McKinnon, R. Walter and J. Pfaender 2012. Invasion of an alien into Wallace's Dreampond: records of the hybridogenic "flowerhorn" cichlid in Lake Matano, with an annotated checklist of fish species introduced to the Malili Lakes system in Central Sulawesi. Aquatic Invasions 7: 521-535.

McKinnon, J.S., N. Hamele*, N. Frey*, J. Chou*, A. McAleavey*, J. Greene*, and W. Paulson* 2012. Male choice in the stream-anadromous stickleback complex. PLOS One 7: e37951.

McKinnon, J.S. and E.B. Taylor 2012. Species choked and blended. Nature (News & Views) 482: 313-314. (Interview on Nature podcast:

Pauers*, M.J., and J.S. McKinnon 2012. Sexual selection on color and behavior within and between cichlid populations: implications for speciation. Current Zoology 58: 475-483.

McKinnon, J.S. and M. Pierotti 2010. Color polymorphism and correlated characters: genetic mechanisms and evolution. Molecular Ecology 19: 5101-5125.

Pauers*, M.J., T.J. Ehlinger and J.S. McKinnon 2010. Female and male visually based mate preferences are consistent with reproductive isolation between populations of the Lake Malawi endemic Labeotropheus fuelleborni. Current Zoology 56: 65-72.

Kuzoff, R., S.B. Kemmeter*, J.S. McKinnon and C.P. Thompson* 2009. Phylogenetic Analysis: How old are the parts of your body? Evolution: Education and Outreach 2: 405-414.

Gray*, S.M., L.M. Dill, F.Y. Tantu, E.R. Loew and J.S. McKinnon 2008. Environment contingent sexual selection in a colour polymorphic fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 275: 1785-91.

Gray*, S.M., J.S. McKinnon, F.Y. Tantu and L.M. Dill 2008. "Sneaky eating" in Telmatherina sarasinorum, an endemic fish from Lake Matano, Sulawesi. Journal of Fish Biology 73:728-731. (featured as research highlight by Nature Aug. 14, 2008).

Chunco*, A., J.S. McKinnon and M. Servedio 2007. Microhabitat variation and sexual selection can maintain male color polymorphisms. Evolution 61:2504-2515.

Gray*, S.M. and J.S. McKinnon (corresponding author) 2007. Linking color polymorphism maintenance and speciation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 22:71-79.

Gray*, S.M., L.M. Dill and J.S. McKinnon 2007. Cuckoldry incites cannibalism: male fish turn to cannibalism when perceived certainty of paternity decreases. American Naturalist 169:258-263.

Gray*, S.M. and J.S. McKinnon 2006. A comparative description of mating behaviour in the endemic telmatherinid fishes of Sulawesi's Malili Lakes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 75:471-482.

Pauers*, M.J., J.S. McKinnon and T.J. Ehlinger 2004. Directional sexual selection on chroma and within-pattern colour contrast in Labeotropheus fuelleborni. Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Suppl.--Biology Letters), 271:S444-S447.

McKinnon, J.S., S. Mori, B. Blackman*, L. David, D. Kingsley, L. Jamieson**, J. Chou**and D. Schluter 2004. Evidence for ecology's role in speciation. Nature 429:294-298.(listed as one of 15 "evolutionary gems" by Nature in Jan. 2009; preliminary results featured in 1999 Science Magazine news article).

Schluter, D., E.A. Clifford*, M. Nemethy** and J.S. McKinnon 2004. Parallel evolution and inheritance of quantitative traits. American Naturalist 163:809-822. (featured in TREE update: Foster and Baker 2004).

All publications through Google Scholar

All publications through Research Gate

Courses Taught:

BIOL 6850. Advances in Ecology.

BIOL xxxx. Research Mentoring Seminar.

BIOL 1050 General Biology

Laboratory Personnel


Lengxob Yong 
PhD Candidate

Zach Harrison


Zach Harrison 
MS Student



Burns Newsome 
MS Student