Marlene Zuk

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Marlene Zuk
Marlene Zuk, Palmerston North City Library.JPG
Born (1956-05-20) May 20, 1956 (age 64)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. [1]
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma mater University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Michigan
Spouse(s)John Rotenberry
Scientific career
Fields Evolutionary biology, behavioral ecology
Institutions University of California, Riverside
University of Minnesota
Thesis Sexual selection, mate choice and gregarine parasite levels in the field crickets Gryllus veletis and G. pennsylvanicus  (1986)

Marlene Zuk (born May 20, 1956) is an American evolutionary biologist and behavioral ecologist. She worked as professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) until she transferred to the University of Minnesota in 2012. Her studies involve sexual selection and parasites. [2]



Zuk was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [1] and she is a native of Los Angeles. [3] Living in the city, she became interested in insects at a young age. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, Zuk started majoring in English, but decided to switch to Biology. [4] After earning her bachelor's degree, she wrote and taught for three years. [5]

In 1982, she and W. D. Hamilton proposed the "good genes" hypothesis of sexual selection. [6] Zuk started attending the University of Michigan in 1986 and earned her Doctor of Philosophy. [5] [7] She completed her postdoctoral research at the University of New Mexico. [5] She joined the UCR faculty in 1989. [3] In April 2012, Zuk and her husband John Rotenberry transferred to the University of Minnesota, where they both work at its College of Biological Sciences. [4]

Zuk has received honorary doctorates from Sweden's Uppsala University (2010) and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland (2016). [8]


Research Interests

Zuk's research of interest deals with the evolution of sexual behavior (especially in relation to parasites), mate choice, and Animal behavior. [2] A recurring theme in Zuk's writing and lectures is feminism and women in science. [4] Zuk is critical of the paleolithic diet. [9] In 1996 Zuk was awarded a continuing grant by the National Science Foundation for an investigation into the ways that variation in females effects sexual selection and what qualities in males indicate vigor. [10]

Women in Science

Zuk is outspoken about promoting women in science. In 2018, Zuk published an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times. Titled, "There's nothing inherent about the fact that men outnumber women in the sciences," [11] the article countered recurring suggestions that women are underrepresented in scientific fields due to inherent preferences toward the humanities. By highlighting the inextricable relationship between nature and nurture, she points out the impossibility of attributing female underrepresentation in science to any inborn cause. Citing essential scientific integrity, she argues that until boys and girls are raised under identical circumstances one could not possibly prove any inherent female leanings towards or away from the sciences. [12]

Selected works

Her books and articles include: [2]

College Leadership

Zuk is a professor in the department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior in the College of Biological Sciences. She is the Associate Dean for Faculty. [2]

Awards and Honors

In 2015 Zuk was the recipient of the Edward O. Wilson Naturalist Award by the American Society of Naturalists. [13] [14]

Zuk was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2017, [15] [16] and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2019. [17]

The Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology named their scholarship award for outstanding oral presentation in the division of animal behavior after her. [18]

Related Research Articles

Sexual dimorphism Condition where the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics beyond the differences in their sexual organs

Sexual dimorphism is the condition where the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics beyond the differences in their sexual organs. The condition occurs in many animals and some plants. Differences may include secondary sex characteristics, size, weight, color, markings, and may also include behavioral and cognitive differences. These differences may be subtle or exaggerated, and may be subjected to sexual selection and natural selection. The opposite of dimorphism is monomorphism.

Lek mating

A lek is an aggregation of male animals gathered to engage in competitive displays and courtship rituals, known as lekking, to entice visiting females which are surveying prospective partners to mate with. A lek can also indicate an available plot of space able to be utilized by displaying males to defend their own share of territory for the breeding season. A lekking species is characterised by male displays, strong female mate choice, and the conferring of indirect benefits to males and reduced costs to females. Although most prevalent among birds such as black grouse, lekking is also found in a wide range of vertebrates including some bony fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, and arthropods including crustaceans and insects.

Joan Roughgarden is an American ecologist and evolutionary biologist. She is well known for her theistic evolutionism and critical studies on Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection.

<i>Teleogryllus oceanicus</i> Species of cricket

Teleogryllus oceanicus, commonly known as the Australian, Pacific or oceanic field cricket, is a cricket found across Oceania and in coastal Australia from Carnarvon in Western Australia and Rockhampton in north-east Queensland

Mate choice

Mate choice is one of the primary mechanisms under which evolution can occur. It is characterized by a “selective response by animals to particular stimuli” which can be observed as behavior. In other words, before an animal engages with a potential mate, they first evaluate various aspects of that mate which are indicative of quality—such as the resources or phenotypes they have—and evaluate whether or not those particular trait(s) are somehow beneficial to them. The evaluation will then incur a response of some sort.

Red Queen hypothesis Concept in evolutionary biology

The Red Queen hypothesis, also referred to as Red Queen's, the Red Queen effect, the Red Queen model, Red Queen's race, and Red Queen dynamics, is a hypothesis in evolutionary biology which proposes that species must constantly adapt, evolve, and proliferate in order to survive while pitted against ever-evolving opposing species. The hypothesis was intended to explain the constant extinction probability as observed in the paleontological record caused by co-evolution between competing species; however, it has also been suggested that the Red Queen hypothesis explains the advantage of sexual reproduction at the level of individuals, and the positive correlation between speciation and extinction rates in most higher taxa.

University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences

The College of Biological Sciences (CBS) is one of seven freshman-admitting colleges at the University of Minnesota. Established in 1869 as the College of Sciences, the College of Biological Sciences is now located on both the Minneapolis Campus and the St. Paul Campus. CBS is a college that focuses its undergraduate and graduate attention towards research. The dean is Valery E. Forbes. The Associate Dean for Graduate Education is Carrie Wilmot, the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education is John Ward, the Associate Dean for Research is David Greenstein, and the Associate Dean for Faculty is Marlene Zuk.

Mary Jane West-Eberhard is an American theoretical biologist noted for arguing that phenotypic and developmental plasticity played a key role in shaping animal evolution and speciation. She is also an entomologist notable for her work on the behavior and evolution of social wasps.

A biological ornament is a characteristic of an animal that appears to serve a decorative function rather than a utilitarian function. Many are secondary sexual characteristics, and others appear on young birds during the period when they are dependent on being fed by their parents. Ornaments are used in displays to attract mates, which may lead to the evolutionary process known as sexual selection. An animal may shake, lengthen, or spread out its ornament in order to get the attention of the opposite sex, which will in turn choose the most attractive one with which to mate. Ornaments are most often observed in males and choosing an extravagantly ornamented male benefits females because the genes that produce the ornament will be passed on to her offspring, increasing their own reproductive fitness. As Ronald Fisher noted, the male offspring will inherit the ornament while the female offspring will inherit the preference for said ornament, which can lead to a positive feedback loop known as a Fisherian runaway. These structures serve as cues to animal sexual behaviour, that is, they are sensory signals that affect mating responses. Therefore, ornamental traits are often selected by mate choice.

<i>The Evolution of Human Sexuality</i> 1979 book by Donald Symons

The Evolution of Human Sexuality is a 1979 book about human sexuality by the anthropologist Donald Symons, in which the author discusses topics such as human sexual anatomy, ovulation, orgasm, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, and rape, attempting to show how evolutionary concepts can be applied to humans. Symons argues that the female orgasm is not an adaptive trait and that women have the capacity for it only because orgasm is adaptive for men, and that differences between the sexual behavior of male and female homosexuals help to show underlying differences between male and female sexuality. In his view, homosexual men tend to be sexually promiscuous because of the tendency of men in general to desire sex with a large number of partners, a tendency that in heterosexual men is usually restrained by women's typical lack of interest in promiscuous sex. Symons also argues that rape can be explained in evolutionary terms and feminist claims that it is not sexually motivated are incorrect.

Dr. Margaret Bryan Davis is an American palynologist and paleoecologist, who used pollen data to study the vegetation history of the past 21,000 years. She showed conclusively that temperate- and boreal-forest species migrated at different rates and in different directions while forming a changing mosaic of communities. Early in her career, she challenged the standard methods and prevailing interpretations of the data and fostered rigorous analysis in palynology. As a leading figure in ecology and paleoecology, she served as president of the Ecological Society of America and the American Quaternary Association and as chair of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. In 1982 she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and, in 1993, received the Eminent Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America.

Sarah Rosalind Pryke is a behavioural and evolutionary ecologist. A graduate of the University of Natal, with a PhD from Göteborg University (Sweden), she is best known for her research on the evolution of sexual signals in the Red-collared widowbird and more recently research on maternal effects and the evolution of alternative reproductive strategies in the Gouldian finch.

Feminist biology is an approach to biology that is concerned with the influence of gender values, the removal of gender bias, and the understanding of the overall role of social values in biological research and practices. Feminist Biology, was founded by, among others, Dr. Ruth Bleier of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it aims to enhance biology by incorporating feminist critique in matters varying from the mechanisms of cell biology and sex selection to the assessment of the meaning of words such as "gender" and "sex". Overall, the field is broadly defined and pertains itself to philosophies behind both biological and feminist practice. These considerations make feminist biology debatable and conflictive with itself, particularly when concerning matters of biological determinism, whereby descriptive sex terms of male and female are intrinsically confining, or extreme postmodernism, whereby the body is viewed more as a social construct. Despite opinions ranging from determinist to postmodernist, however, biologists, feminists, and feminist biologists of varying labels alike have made claims to the utility of applying feminist ideology to biological practice and procedure.

Parasite-stress theory Theory of human evolution

Parasite-stress theory, illustrated by researchers Corey Fincher and Randy Thornhill, is a theory of human evolution proposing that parasites and diseases encountered by a species shape the development of species' values and qualities. The differences in how parasites and diseases stress people's development is what leads to differences in their biological mate value and mate preferences, as well as differences across culture. Parasites causing diseases pose potential ecological hazards and, subsequently, selection pressures can alter psychological and social behaviours of humans, as well as have an influence on their immune systems.

Ruth Geyer Shaw is a professor and principal investigator in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. She studies the processes involved in genetic variation, specializing in plant population biology and evolutionary quantitative genetics. Her work is particularly relevant in studying the effects of stressors such as climate instability and population fragmentation on evolutionary change in populations. She has developed and applied new statistical methods for her field and is considered a leading population geneticist.

Sarah E. Hobbie is an American ecologist, currently at the University of Minnesota, a National Academy of Sciences Fellow for Ecology, Evolution and Behavior in 2014 and a formerly Minnesota McKnight Land-Grant Professor.

Liselotte Sundström is a Finnish zoologist. She is professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Helsinki.

Allison K. Shaw is an American ecologist and professor at the University of Minnesota. She studies the factors that drive the movements of organisms.

Maria R. Servedio is a Canadian-American professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research spans a wide range of topics in evolutionary biology from sexual selection to evolution of behavior. She largely approaches these topics using mathematical models. Her current research interests include speciation and reinforcement, mate choice, and learning with a particular focus on evolutionary mechanisms that promote premating (prezygotic) isolation. Through integrative approaches and collaborations, she uses mathematical models along with experimental, genetic, and comparative techniques to draw conclusions on how evolution occurs. She has published extensively on these topics and has more than 50 peer-reviewed articles. She served as Vice President in 2018 of the American Society of Naturalists.

Jeannine Cavender-Bares is a professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Ecology, Evolution & Behavior. Her research integrates evolutionary biology, ecology, and physiology by studying the functional traits of plants, with a particular focus on oaks.


  1. 1 2 Henderson, Andrea Kovacs, ed. (2010). "Zuk, Marlene". American Men & Women of Science. 7 T–Z (28th ed.). Detroit, Michigan: Gale. p. 1078. ISBN   978-1-4144-4558-8.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Professor Marlene Zuk". College of Biological Sciences. University of Michigan. Retrieved February 4, 2018.
  3. 1 2 Pittalwala, Iqbal (April 5, 2007). "UCR Newsroom: Can Disease Be Our Friend?". UCR Newsroom. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 Leigh, Blake (May 30, 2012). "CBS hires bug sexpert Marlene Zuk". Minnesota Daily. Archived from the original on November 18, 2012. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 "Dr. Marlene Zuk". X-STEM – Extreme STEM Symposium. USA Science and Engineering Festival. Archived from the original on January 7, 2017. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
  6. Combes, Claude (October 1, 2005). The Art of Being a Parasite. University of Chicago Press. p. 179. ISBN   978-0-226-11438-5 . Retrieved May 24, 2013.
  7. "Marlene Zuk". UCR Department of Biology. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
  8. "Finnish University Honors Zuk | College of Biological Sciences". Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  9. "Scientist says paleo diet is not always based on way evolution really works". May 14, 2015. Retrieved July 26, 2015.
  10. "NSF Award Search: No Award Found". Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  11. "Op-Ed: There's nothing inherent about the fact that men outnumber women in the sciences". Los Angeles Times. March 11, 2018. Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  12. "Marlene Zuk and Susan D. Jones: COVID-19 is not your great-grandfather's flu — comparisons with 1918 are overblown". Greeley Tribune. April 3, 2020. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  13. "Zuk receives naturalist award | College of Biological Sciences". Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  14. "Edward O. Wilson Award". Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  15. "Award-Winning Faculty and Staff | College of Biological Sciences". Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  16. "Marlene Zuk". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  17. "CCS Alumna Elected to the National Academy of Sciences".
  18. "Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology". Retrieved March 5, 2020.