Alexa Tullis

Updated: June 2012

Research Program Overview
Research in my lab focuses on animal energetics. Within this broad topic, my students and I study how various factors such as temperature, locomotion, and body form influence animal metabolism and performance (broadly defined).  My research has drawn upon the great diversity in the animal kingdom to address physiological questions, with projects involving both invertebrates (insects, crabs, sea stars, brachiopods, and bivalves) and vertebrates (sharks and snakes).  In addition to using a diversity of animals, my present research has taken an integrative approach, spanning from molecules to whole-animals.  A list of publications below, spanning from my undergraduate research through my current work at Puget Sound, gives a good overview of my research interests.

Current Projects
The cost of bearing a sexually selected trait
Natural Selection is a well-documented evolutionary mechanism whereby certain traits that enable organisms to survive in a particular environment are selected for over other traits. Individuals possessing these traits tend to survive longer and leave more offspring than other individuals. In this way, populations evolved to become better adapted to living in certain environments. Sexual selection, by contrast, can lead to the evolution of elaborate sex-specific traits that enhance attractiveness to potential mates but do not increase chances of survival. Such traits include the bright coloration of guppies, large antlers of ungulates, and long, showy tail feathers of peacocks. Therefore, sexual selection leads to greater fitness without increasing adaptation.

Mattie Parsell
Allison Hughes

My students and I are currently investigating the metabolic cost and locomotory implications of bearing a sexually selected trait using male fiddler crabs as our model organism. Male fiddler crabs possess a huge major claw that they use to attract females and fight with other males, making them ideal for assessing the costs of bearing a sexually selected trait.  We are approaching this question from a number of different angles requiring diverse techniques. Our goal is to develop a comprehensive picture of the chronic costs of possessing an exaggerated trait.  The University of Puget Sound has provided financial support for this project. (Pictured: Mattie Parsell, left, and Allison Hughes, summer 2012)

The proteomic response of mussel congeners to acute cold shock and air exposure
I began this project during my sabbatical in collaboration with Dr. Lars Tomanek at California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo. Proteomics is a method by which scientists can examine the entire suite of proteins being expressed by cells, tissues, or whole organisms at any given time. As such, proteomics is interested in large-scale changes in production, rather than examining changes on a protein-by-protein basis. Dr. Tomanek is one of the leading scientists in the country who uses this method to address physiological questions in non-model organisms (i.e., organisms not traditionally used in medical and biological research). In this project, we exposed two species of local blue mussels, the native Mytilus trossulus and the introduced M. galloprovincialis, to air at cold temperatures as a way to simulate exposure of these intertidal organisms during low tide.  Examining the proteomes of these mussels in comparison to non-exposed mussels should give us insight into how organisms have adapted to the highly variable conditions present in the intertidal. The National Science Foundation provided funds for this collaborative project.


(Puget Sound students and alumni are bold and italicized)

Fly, E.K., Monaco, C.J., Pincebourde, S. and Tullis, A. (2012). The influence of intertidal location and temperature on the metabolic cost of emersion in Pisaster ochraceus. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 422-423: 20-28.

Tullis, A. and Andrus, S.C. (2011). The cost of incline locomotion in ghost crabs of different sizes. Journal of Comparative Physiology. 181(7): 873-881. (Abstract)

Madlung, A., Bremer, M., Himelblau, E. and Tullis, A. (2011). A study assessing the potential of negative effects in interdisciplinary math-biology instruction. Life Science Education, 10: 43-54. (Abstract)

Moon, B.R.  and Tullis, A. (2006). The ontogeny of contractile performance and metabolic capacity in a high-frequency muscle. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 79(1): 20-30. (Abstract)

Tullis, A. and Baillie, M.I.  (2005). The metabolic and biochemical responses of a tropical elasmobranch to alterations in environmental temperature. Journal of Fish Biology, 67: 950 - 968.

Tullis, A. and Peterson, G.  (2000).  Growth and metabolism in embryonic white spotted bamboo sharks, Chiloscyllium plagiosum:  Comparison with embryonic birds and reptiles. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology73(3): 271 - 282.  (Abstract)

Londraville, R.L., Cramer, T.D., Frank, J.P., Tullis, A., and Block, B.A.  (2000).  Cloning of a neonatal calcium ATPase isoform (SERCA 1B) from extrocular muscle of adult blue marlin (Makaira nigricans). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, B.  127: 223 - 233.  (Abstract)

Tullis, A. and Block, B.A.  (1997).  Histochemical and immunohistochemical studies on the origin of the blue marlin heater cell phenotype.  Tissue and Cell. 29(6):  627 - 642. (Abstract)

Tullis, A. and Block, B.A. (1996).  Expression of SR Ca2+ ATPase isoforms in marlin and swordfish skeletal, extraocular, and thermogenic muscle cells.  American Journal of Physiology, 271:  R262-R275.  (Abstract)

Tullis, A., Block, B.A. and Sidell, B.D.  (1991).  Activities of key metabolic enzymes in the heater organs of scombroids fishes.  Journal of Experimental Biology, 161: 383-403.  (Abstract)

Full, R.J. and Tullis, A.  (1990).  Capacity for sustained terrestrial locomotion in an insect: Energetics, thermal dependence, and kinematics.  Journal of Comparative Physiology B, 160: 573-581.

Full, R.J., Zuccarello, D.A. and Tullis, A.  (1990).  Effects of variation in form on the cost of terrestrial locomotion. Journal of Experimental Biology, 150: 233-246.  (Abstract)

Full, R.J. and Tullis, A.  (1990).  The energetics of ascent: Insects on inclines. Journal of Experimental Biology, 149: 307-317.  (Abstract)