Indiana State University Newsroom

NIH fellow to provide Women in Science keynote on March 27

March 16, 2018

A National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow whose research aims the causes and consequences of sexual signaling in animals, specifically female animals, will deliver the keynote speaker for the 10th annual Women Science Speaker March 27 at Indiana State University.

As part of this year's Darwin Keynote Speaker Series, Courtney Fitzpatrick's presentation, entitled "The Evolution of Colorful Females: A Model for Social Evolution," will begin at 7 p.m. in the events area of Cunningham Memorial Library. Her talk is free and open to the public.

"We've long known about the signals that male animals send, especially visual signals, to attract mates. The peacock's tail is the most famous example. Everybody knows about the male peacock's tail; it's even the symbol for NBC television," Fitzpatrick said. "What's not nearly as well known and understood are the reasons that females sometimes display visual signals to attract mates as well. That's what my research is focused on - female baboons, certain lizards, blue crabs and others."

Fitzpatrick serves as a NIH postdoctoral fellow at Indiana University Bloomington. She received a bachelor's degree with highest honors in visual art from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a Ph.D. in biology from Duke University, where she collaborated with the Amboseli Baboon Research Project.

"I will talk about a mathematical model - but don't worry, the talk will have more pictures of animals than it will have mathematical equations," Fitzpatrick said. "We'll discuss some of the ideas that are out there that attempt to explain how exaggerated traits have evolved in female animals. The model itself represents an idea that was inspired by my dissertation field work in Kenya, where I was studying wild baboons. So I will talk a little bit about the reproductive biology of female baboons."

She was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center before her current NIH postdoctoral fellowship at IU as part of the Common Themes in Reproductive Diversity research group.

Her dissertation research, in collaboration with the Amboseli Baboon Research Project, developed non-invasive photogrammetric methods to examine the function and evolution of one of the most commonly cited examples of female ornamentation - the exaggerated estrous swellings displayed by females in some species of Old World primates.

Now she is using population genetic and quantitative genetic models as a general tool to understand the relative strengths of the different selective forces that drive and constrain the evolution of sexual signals in females in a variety of mating system contexts.

Fitzpatrick's talk will be coordinated with the Women's History Month events at Indiana State.

"It's interesting because when we do research in other primates, females have much more influence and control of their society. (Fitzpatrick's) research is an interesting take on how we look at the world, particularly this year, when we look at the social movements in the country," said Rusty Gonser, State professor and coordinator of the department of biology's Darwin Keynote Speaker Series. "Biologists have spent years studying everything from a male perspective and only now are we starting to explore the field through a female perspective. We're want to highlight the great contributions that women are making in science and bring these women to campus as role models for students at ISU."

The event is co-sponsored by Indiana State's department of biology and the department of sciences and mathematics at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Other sponsors include the Indiana State Honors College, Office of the President, College of Graduate and Professional Studies and Center for Community Engagement.


Photo: - Courtney Fitzpatrick -- An example of female ornamentation is seen. (Image courtesy of Courtney Fitzpatrick)

Contact: Rusty Gonser, professor of biology, department of biology, Indiana State University,

Writer: Betsy Simon, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or

Story Highlights

A National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow will deliver the keynote speaker for the 10th annual Women Science Speaker March 27 at Indiana State.

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