Young Investigators Award goes to Ph.D. grad Sarah Fitzpatrick

Sarah Fitzpatrick

Sarah Fitzpatrick, a 2015 Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Biology.

A recent Ph.D. graduate of the Department of Biology, Sarah Fitzpatrick, received a Young Investigators Award from the American Society of Naturalists for her work studying the effects of gene flow on wild animal populations.

Now an assistant professor at Michigan State University, Fitzpatrick said: “I am extremely honored to receive the ASN Young Investigators Award. I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done in Trinidad using guppies as a system to study evolution in wild populations.”

The Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Award is given out each year to young researchers who have conducted integrative field work in genetics, behavioral ecology, evolutionary biology and ecology. There is a monetary prize awarded to the recipient, along with a travel allowance.

Guppies for the gold

Fitzpatrick was one of four honorees to receive the award. She completed her Ph.D. research at Colorado State University in 2015 under College of Natural Sciences Professor Chris Funk, associate professor of biology. Fitzpatrick’s research in the Funk Lab included understanding fitness consequences of gene flow on adaption and demography in wild populations of freshwater fish.

Fitzpatrick’s field work focused on wild populations of guppies in Trinidad. There, she studied the effects of gene flow on adaptation in fitness in small headwater stream populations. This field research linked genetic fluctuations caused by gene flow to changes in phenotypic traits and ultimately population size.

Her team showed that gene flow from adaptively different populations caused genetic rescue of small populations. These results could help inform the management of small and inbred populations of conservation concern.

During her trips to Trinidad, she also collaborated with community members in a remote village called Brasso Seco. Here, they set up motion sensing cameras in forests throughout the Northern Range in order to document some of Trinidad’s rarest mammals, including the ocelot.

Passionate researcher

Since earning her Ph.D. from CSU in 2015, Fitzpatrick has started her own research program as an assistant professor at Michigan State University. She continues the forward progress in researching ecological and evolutionary biodiversity. She said, “I hope that my work helps us have a better understanding of how interactions of evolutionary forces, like gene flow and selection, affect population growth and ultimately could be used to maintain healthy and diverse populations in the wild.”

The American Society for Naturalists recognized Fitzpatrick for her accomplishments, which help bring together the society’s goals of unification in biological sciences, while progressing the knowledge of organic evolution.