Posted By

Tanja Zerulla catches mosquitofish using a dip net in Miami, Florida. Photo credit: Tanja Zerulla.

Tanja Zerulla, our Ph.D. candidate is currently studying social behaviors in the Eastern Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki). She is working with Dr. Phillip K. Stoddard in his Neurology, Behavior, Ecology, & Evolution of Communication lab.

Tanja was recently featured in the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) blog for her research on male mosquitofish and spoke about her experience with BHL.

“I’ve been working on defining the social behavior of male Eastern Mosquitofish color morphs,” explains Zerulla. “While reading, I found references to a few older articles about the genus (Gambusia) behavior. While looking on Google Scholar, I found the article ‘Monarchistic dominance in small groups of captive male mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis patruelis’ – and it linked me to BHL! I was able to read about how male fish interact with each other and now have a point of comparison for my own research.”

An earlier study was done in 1962 focusing on the monarchistic behavior in captive male mosquitofish. Monarchistic behavior can be defined as the behavior of a dominant individual being more extreme. These kinds of social order hierarchies exist in the animal kingdom and dictate how members in the group interact. In a series of controlled experiments, the study authors witnessed a range of aggressive behaviors being used to establish the dominant individual, who then suppressed interactions between the remaining fish (Caldwell and Caldwell 1962).

Zerulla has been studying fish biology for over six years. Her research passion is understanding the underlying causes of biological behavior. Zerulla’s undergraduate research included studies on the effects of chemicals and compounds in water systems on fish swimming behavior and the impact of nucleotides on fish feeding behavior. For her graduate work, Zerulla applied to several programs with leaders in the field of behavioral biology.

“In particular, I wanted to work with someone who studied behavior across biological levels – from genetics and physiology to ecology and evolution,” explains Zerulla. “I found my fit at Florida International University working for Dr. Philip Stoddard, where I now study how a color pattern is linked to social behaviors in the Eastern Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki).”

Read BHL’s full blog post to learn more about Tanja Zerulla and her research.