Wade Hazel and his collaborators and students conduct research on the evolutionary biology of conditional strategies. Most recently this has involved studies of the biogeography of predator-induced defense, experimental evolution of conditionally expressed weapons in males, and theoretical models for evolution via the process of genetic accommodation.
In 2011, Professor Hazel co-authored a paper published in Current Biology that addresses evolution of secondary sexual traits in a species of mite, Rhizoglyphus echinopus. This species of mite has two types of males: “fighters” which have specialized weapon-like legs that are used to kill rivals, and “scramblers” which have normal legs and are incapable of harming each other. The researchers maintained populations of mites in two different types of habitats, a “simple” flat habitat and a “complex” three-dimensional habitat. The fighter males suffered in the complex habitat because they were less mobile. The scrambler males suffered in the simple habitat because they were outcompeted by the fighter males.
“What’s neat about our results is that we were able to construct habitats that altered the cost to benefit ratio for weapon production and then let evolution take its course,” says Professor Hazel. “Evolutionary theory predicts that the decreased fitness of the fighters should lead to a decline in their frequency over evolutionary time; and this is what we saw in a surprising short period of time.”
"Habitat Complexity Drives Experimental Evolution of a Conditionally Expressed Secondary Sexual Trait," Joseph L. Tomkins, Wade N. Hazel, Marissa A. Penrose, Jacek W. Radwan, and Natasha R. LeBas. Current Biology 21, 569-573, April 12, 2011.
Professor Hazel teaches courses in evolution, ecology, and genetics. Among the courses he teaches are: Bio 145, Ecology and Evolution; Bio 320, Genetics; and Bio 444, Population Genetics and Evolution.