Amanda Pierce, Ph.D.



    Emory University - Population Biology Ecology & Evolution


    Karin Pfennig, Ph.D.


While an undergraduate at the University of Kansas, I always had an interest in science but developed a specific interest in evolutionary biology and behavior as my studies progressed. I began research in this area in the lab of Dr. Jennifer Gleason, where I conducted an independent research project investigating multimodal signaling in courtship and its effect on the mating success of Drosophila willistoni. Through this project, I had my first glimpse at life as a researcher along with all of its ups and downs. The Gleason lab is also where I was introduced to behavioral genetics through the study of the genetics of courtship behavior and mate identification influenced by cuticular hydrocarbon expression in two sister species of Drosophila.

My cumulative coursework and research experiences motivated me to continue my studies and pursue graduate school, where I attended Emory University and worked in the lab of Dr. Jaap de Roode. My dissertation work explored the effects of range expansion and animal migration on population genetics by using the monarch butterfly as a model system to study connectivity and genetic differentiation. In addition to research, I was a teaching assistant for undergraduate evolution, gave guest lectures in a graduate ecology course and an undergraduate freshman seminar course, and was a research mentor for ten students. During this time, I feel I made the biggest impact by mentoring students one-on-one. I encouraged my students to be organized and responsible, to think for themselves, and to try to see the “big picture” in our research. I also participated in a STEM club with a local minority serving elementary school, which provides hands-on experience to engage children in the math and sciences. Aside from being a rewarding experience, this taught me methods to present complex ideas in a way that is still accessible. With the help of the SPIRE program, I look forward to translating these experiences to the classroom.

For my postdoctoral work, I joined the lab of Dr. Karin Pfennig where I plan to combine my graduate background in population genetics with my undergraduate work in mate choice. The behavior of mate choice involves processing information about social stimuli, an individual’s external environment, that individual’s own health and the environment of their offspring. Understanding how an individual’s health interacts with their genetic background to shape decision-making is a major goal of behavioral research. Moreover, many neurological disorders stem from an individual perceiving and responding abnormally to the environment. Parsing the impact of genetic and environmental factors that affect decision-making behaviors could provide fundamental insights to help lay the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.



  • Spring 2017
    • Ecology and Evolution of Disease, UNC Pembroke


  • A.A. Pierce, R. Gutierrez, A.M. Rice, K.S. Pfennig. 2017. Genetic variation during range expansion: effects of habitat novelty and hybridization. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 284: 20170007.

  • K.S. Pfennig, A.L. Kelly, A.A. Pierce. 2016. Hybridization as a facilitator of species range expansion. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 283(1839) 1-9.