Kari Benson


Course Information:

Biology 111: Organisms, Ecology, and Evolution

Biology 313: Marine Biology

Biology 314: Biology of West Indian Coral Reef Organisms

Biology 321: Ecology

Biology 345: Animal Behavior

Biology 480: Case Studies in Biology




Writing Suggestions for Biology and Environmental Science



The Gunnery School, Washington, CT - 1984

Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA - 1988 B.S. Biology

The University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS - 1992 M.S. Biology

Thesis: Use of Floodplain Habitats by Larval Fishes

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE - 1998 Ph.D. Biology

Dissertation: Signal Use in Poeciliid Fishes

Abbreviated CV



I am particularly interested in aquatic systems and have traveled and collected at marine systems in Jamaica, San Salvador (Bahamas), Mexico, Hawaii, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Eastern Shore of Virginia, and New England. I have also explored numerous freshwater lakes, streams, and rivers locally and elsewhere, including Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oaxaca (Mexico), and Veracruz (Mexico).

My research interests are diverse. I have addressed the ecology of larval fish in southeastern floodplains. My focus in behavioral work as been the behavioral ecology of decision-making relative to foraging and mating decisions.  I have studied crickets, spiders, several species of fish, blue jays, and starlings.

My current research incorporates my interests in aquatic organisms and reproductive decisions, and is focused on three specific groups:

I have a laboratory population of Gambusia holbrooki, the eastern mosquitofish. This fish is endemic to the Northeastern United States, and belongs to the livebearing family, Poeciliidae. Females of this species have a trait, the gravidity spot, that changes with reproductive status. I am testing the some components of the adaptive value (the costs and benefits) of receptivity signaling.

I am also studying Pisaurid spiders.  In this case, there are five species of interest (all of the genus Dolomedes) that occur at our field site (Claytor Nature Study Center).  My main interest lies in whether male D. scriptus can discern the reproductive status of females.  In a related species, virgin females will usually mate with males, where mated females typically cannibalize approaching males (Johnson, 2002).  This suggests rather strong evolutionary pressure for the males to recognize mating status prior to courting females.  I am exploring male and female mating preferences, information embedded in silk draglines, and am collaborating with a chemist (Jason Crumpton) on identifying putative pheromones in spider silk.

An additional research direction relates to the morphology, function, and reflectance of the tapetum lucidum in lycosoid spiders.  I am collaborating with Bob Suter (Vassar College) looking at eye structures and the corresponding behavioral patterns found in these spiders.

Finally, I am examining the behavior of Gambusia manni, the Bahamian mosquitofish.  These fishes, though similar to the eastern mosquitofish, use much more extreme (hypersaline) habitats, and are known to have a subocular bar, which is purported to be an aggressive signal.


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