Computational Biology Seminar Series for Undergraduates

Sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences and the Center for Computation & Technology

Pattern recognition: using specimens, genomics, and digital photography to decode the evolution of a hyperdiverse quail


Why do organisms look different in different parts of their range? This question lives at the heart of evolutionary biology, and new advances in molecular and computational methods are bringing us closer to understanding the interplay of genes, environment, and phenotype in non-model organisms. The Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) presents a perfect case-study; across its range from the southeastern U.S. to southern Mexico, there are 22 subspecies of Northern Bobwhite recognized by male plumage pattern, making it one of the most phenotypically diverse birds in the world. These patterns vary dramatically from horizontal and vertical stripes, spots, and plain chests, with just about everything in-between. What explains this incredible phenotypic diversity within a single species, and how is this variation reflected at the genetic level? At the population level, what evolutionary processes are responsible for driving these patterns? To answer these questions, I’m using genomic approaches in concert with digital photography of specimens to understand the genetic mechanisms responsible for generating the diversity of plumage patterns in Northern Bobwhite. My talk will focus on my current research and how my experiences with high school and undergraduate research led me to pursue my PhD.


A native of the Chicago-area, I got my first taste of research in biochemistry labs at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University as a high school student. My interest in research led me to pursue my undergraduate degree at Occidental College in Los Angeles, which has an award-winning undergraduate research program. While at Occidental, I worked with John McCormack in the Moore Laboratory of Zoology, home to the largest collection of Mexican birds in the world, where I developed a passion for natural history collections. My undergraduate research focused on the comparative phylogeography of birds in the Mexican highlands. These experiences led me to pursue my PhD at LSU with Brant Faircloth and Robb Brumfield in the LSU Museum of Natural Science. My current research focuses on the drivers of speciation in birds.

Jessie F. Salter

Brant C. Faircloth Lab | Robb T. Brumfield Lab

Dept. of Biological Sciences | Museum of Natural Science

PhD Candidate