Neiman Lab Research

Undergraduate Student Research Projects

Research Project Title:
The advantages and disadvantages of sex in a New Zealand snail

Research Description:
Why Do Males Exist? Sexual females produce both sons and daughters, while asexual females make only daughters. Because only females produce offspring, this "cost of males" predicts that sex should be rare because asexual females will leave many more descendants than will sexual females. In reality, however, sex predominates. Why sex is so common despite its costs remains unclear, and is considered one of the most important unanswered questions in evolutionary biology. Since sex is distinguished from asexual reproduction by the production of genetically variable offspring, a better understanding of the benefits of sex is also of direct relevance to understanding the value of preserving genetic diversity within and among populations, species, and ecological communities. More broadly, our research program is relevant to scientists who use our snail study system as a model for ecotoxicology as well as to those studying the causes and consequences of biological invasions. Our lab group is also very committed to training, mentoring, and community engagement, and we are involved in a variety of such efforts, from regular collaborations with 10th grade Biology students at a local high school to the development and testing of a genomics module for a national high school computer science curriculum to our central role in organizing the annual Iowa City Darwin Day celebration.

How Are Sexuals and Asexuals Different? The expectation that sex should be rare is based on the assumption that sexuals and asexuals are similar. In other words, the two-fold cost of sex will be diminished or even negated if asexual females experience disadvantages related to asexuality. Accordingly, our research uses a variety of approaches to identify and understand the consequences of the many ways in which asexuals and sexuals might differ, with the goal of better understanding why sex is so common in natural populations. 

Undergraduate Role:
Undergraduates in my lab do a variety of tasks and projects, from snail maintenance to conducting their own independent research. Please see for specific examples of undergraduate involvement in my lab.
Undergraduate Minimum Qualifications:
Interest in evolutionary biology and/or ecology; for 1st-year students, at least a 3.25 high school GPA, for all others, at least a 3.0 university GPA.