, , , , , , , ,

Merry Christmas, it’s time for an update on my research. My first project on age-dependent sexual signals, long nicknamed Project Zero during the four years (!) I’ve been working on it has been published by PeerJ. Not only published, but featured on the homepage and the blog. There’s an interview there where you can read all about it, so I will skip the details here. This journal is open access, so you can read the article for free. You can also download the simulation code and all the data for the figures at figshare.

My next research project has been submitted to Ecology and Evolution, another open access journal, published by Wiley. I have already put the manuscript on ArXiv, so go read it!  I also presented this at the Evolution conference over the summer.  The scenario I describe in this paper is that when females have preferences for older males, as they would for an age-dependent trait, they will inevitably encounter deleterious mutations. Since mutations pile up in the male germ line with age, more attractive, older males may not necessarily yield more fit offspring.  If the female preference is directly costly, then natural selection may eliminate the preference.  What I found instead is that germ line mutation actually supplies the necessary genetic variation for selection to act, in other words, it reinforces sexual selection and further facilitates evolution of extravagance.

I’m still working through the math on a third paper.  The subject here is the evolution of female choosiness as a function of age.  Some studies show that females are more choosy when they are older, while others show that females are more choosy when they are young.  There are arguments on both sides suggesting how selection produces these patterns.  We just had a lab meeting where my colleagues helped me to clarify how to build the model.  My hope is to have this one ready for publication sometime in the early spring.

Another paper with my name on it was published in May, although it has been on the web and finished for so long that I didn’t notice its publication in PLoS Biology, the flagship open access biology journal. This article was a collaboration with people I mainly met on Twitter. We wrote an opinion piece on how biologists of all disciplines, but especially in ecology and evolution, could embrace putting their work online at preprint servers like ArXiv, Figshare, PeerJ Preprints, and F1000Research. This practice is common in mathematics and physics, and although it’s gaining popularity in biology, most biologists I know recoil in disgust at the thought of putting their work online before it’s peer-reviewed. Well, actually these days the younger scientists respond with interest rather than recoil in shock.

The funny thing about peer review is that it takes a really long time to get stuff published.  By “published” I mean “done with.”  I have been working on the first project above for over four years if you count the time I spent programming the multilocus genetics library.  I have submitted it to four journals, and it was outright rejected from the first three for various reasons, most of them not scientific.  What I don’t like is that I would like to spend time working on newer things.  I’m simply interested in new things now.  This reminds me of the situation in Pink Floyd’s 1980s and 1990s tours, where some fans wanted them to play their classics, and they wanted to play their new music (some of which they actually put a lot of effort into writing, and thought was better music, but what do they know?). However, I am grateful for all the chances I’ve had to revise that paper, since my understanding of science and how to do it are totally different four years later.  Even in the weeks since I submitted the paper to PeerJ and got the (very helpful!) reviews back, I have found better ways to express the ideas in the paper and improve the writing.  It’s a double-edged sword, and I’m not quite ready to do away with it.

The other drawback is not getting the research into a place where people can see it.  I’ve been showing that model to people for all but six months of the time I’ve been working on it, and it has taken another three years to get one step closer to publication.  That’s why we have arXiv and figshare.  People can see it pre-peer-review and get ideas from it.  They can even cite it.