scholes research


More specifically, my current focus is to understand how the extraordinary phenotypic diversity of the birds of paradise (BOP) has come to be over the course of their evolutionary history.  In a small corner of the globe--the island of New Guinea and nearby areas--around 38-88 species (depending on species concept applied) have diversified from a common ancestor into an astonishing array of courtship-related forms.  The differences among species in size, shape, color, plumage-type and behavior are tremendous and are more akin to the kind of marco-evolutionary variation seen among avian families rather than within them.  My aim is to understand how this diversity has originated and been modified through time.  How does sexual selection influence the evolution of large-scale phenotypic disparity?  Where did these unprecedented phenotypic characters (i.e. the plumage ornaments and behaviors) come from?  Once arisen, how have they been changed and modified through time?

My current research has two major foci; please click the links below to learn more:

(1) characterizing the structure and composition of courtship phenotypes

(2) understanding the patterns and processes involved in the evolution of the courtship phenotype

Over the past several years, I have been studying the genus Parotia in-depth as a model for understanding evolution within the entire BOP radiation.

Above are three examples of the extraordinary diversity in BOP courtship phenotypes.  From top to bottom: the Superb BOP (Lophorina superba), Wilson’s BOP (Diphyllodes respublica), and the Black Sicklebill (Epimachus fastuosus).  Images copyright © 2006 Edwin Scholes III.

My research style is not one that applies broad questions to a particular system, rather my approach is somewhat opposite;  I let my particular organisms of interest (i.e. the birds of paradise) guide me to issues of broader conceptual significance.   In other words, the birds of paradise are the muse leading to scientific discovery.  For me, this process works because my interests are not motivated by a need to understand general questions or theories per se, but rather by my desire to understand the evolution of the organisms I find so infinitely intriguing.  By indulging my curiosity, I am drawn into new and exciting ways of thinking and am often forced to synthesize novel concepts with the observations I've made during my studies.  The end-product, however, is usually generalizable well beyond the birds of paradise because evolution is rarely a singular event.  The details may differ, but even exceptions help to inform us of the rules.  And the birds of paradise are marvels of evolution with a lot to teach us about the nature of biological diversity.

copyright © 2011 Edwin Scholes III