Margaret B. Ptacek

Associate Professor

Contact Information:

Phone: 864 656-6964
FAX: 864 656-0435


University of Missouri-Columbia, Division of Biological Sciences
Columbia, Missouri, Doctorate, 1991

Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas, Masters of Science, 1984

Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas, Bachelors of Science, 1981

Research Interests:

My main research interests lie at the intersection of behavioral ecology, population genetics and speciation. Specifically, I am interested in processes that control genetic divergence among populations and the contributions of these processes to local adaptation and speciation. My work investigates mechanisms causing divergence among natural populations and addresses questions regarding gene flow and its influence on phylogenetic relationships among populations and closely related species. In my research, I apply molecular techniques to phylogeny reconstruction and use these phylogenies to address a variety of issues of significance in evolutionary ecology.

I am currently involved in two major projects. The first project entails examining speciation in a group of poeciliid fishes, the subgenus Mollienesia, in which sexual selection may have played a prominent role. The mollies are an excellent group in which to study speciation because enormous variation exists in male morphology and mating behaviors both at the interspecific level and among populations within certain molly species. I am focusing my research on the evolution of the behaviors and morphology associated with the sailfin molly phenotype using the three interrelated approaches of phylogeny reconstruction, comparative behavioral studies and genetic hybridization experiments.

The second project, in collaboration with Ernest Keeley at Idaho State University, is an in-depth investigation of the ecological and genetic factors that promote and maintain establishment of rainbow trout introgression into native Yellowstone cutthroat gene pools. The data collected from this research will provide crucial knowledge of the population genetics of a threatened species, the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, which will ultimately aid in its conservation by identifying remaining genetically pure cutthroat populations that can then be targeted for management and preservation. It will also contribute to a greater comprehension of the ecological and genetic dynamics responsible for the spread of the introduced rainbow trout, which has been prolifically stocked into many North American river systems. Broadly, this study has wide applicability across many invasion systems, and should greatly augment our ability to predict the relative susceptibility of certain habitats to invasion, and identify traits that favor invasiveness in different species.

Selected Publications:

Hankison, S. J., Childress, M. J., Schmitter-Soto, J. J., and Ptacek, M. B. 2006. Morphological divergence within and between the Mexican sailfin mollies, Poecilia velifera and P. petenensis. J. Fish Biol. 68:1-21.

Jones, M. T., Voss, S. R., Ptacek, M. B., Weisrock, D. W. and Tonkyn, D. W. 2006. River Drainages and phylogeography: an evolutionary significant lineage of shovel-nosed salamander (Desmognathus marmoratus) in the Southern Appalachians. Mol. Phylo. Evol., 38:280-287. PDF Download

Ptacek, M. B., Childress, M. J. and Kittell, M. M. 2005. Characterizing the mating behaviours of the Tamesí molly, Poecilia latipunctata: a sailfin with shortfin morphology. Anim. Behav., 70:1339-1348. PDF Download

Kittell, M. M., Harvey, M. N., Contraras Baldaras, S., and Ptacek, M. B. 2005. Wild-caught hybrids between sailfin and shortfin mollies (Poeciliidae: Poecilia: Mollienesia): Morphological and molecular verification. Hidrobiológica, 15 (Special Feature 2):131-137. PDF Download

Ptacek, M. B. 2005. Mating signal divergence, sexual selection and species recognition in mollies (Poeciliidae: Poecilia: Mollienesia). Pp. 73-89, in H. J. Grier and M. Uribe, eds., Proceedings from the Second International Symposium on Livebearing Fishes, Invited participant. Homestead, FL: New Life Publications, Inc. PDF Download

Ptacek, M. B. 2002. Patterns of inheritance of mating signals in interspecific hybrids between sailfin and shortfin mollies (Poeciliidae: Poecilia: Mollienesia). In W. J. Etges and M. A. F. Noor, eds., Genetics of Mate Choice: From Sexual Selection to Sexual Isolation, Invited participant, Genetica, 116(2-3):329-342. PDF Download

Ptacek, M. B., S. K. Sarver, M. J. Childress, and W. F. Herrnkind. 2001. Molecular phylogeny of the spiny lobster genus Panulirus (Decapoda: Palinuridae). Marine and Freshwater Research, 52:1037-1047. PDF Download

Ptacek, M. B. 2000. The role of mating preferences in shaping interspecific divergence in mating signals in vertebrates. Behavioural Processes, 51:111-134. PDF Download

Professional Society Affiliations:

Society for the Study of Evolution
Animal Behavior Society

Courses Taught:

Spring Semesters
BIOSC 335 Evolutionary Biology

FAll Semesters
Conservation Genetics

Graduate Students:

Kelly Gunnell
Shala Hankison
Heather Kozak