Use the navigation menu (at left) to read about my research and teaching at Amherst.  Students should use the advising link for information about the Biology or Environmental Studies majors, or the recommendation link for information regarding letters of recommendation. 

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Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona (2000)
M.Sc., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona (1997)
B.A., Biology, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado (1992)

Research Interests

My research interests are in the ecology and evolution of plant reproductive systems and my research group focuses on features that promote outcrossing between individuals; namely, the evolution of separate (as opposed to combined) sexes and the evolution of physiological mechanisms that prevent self-fertilization in hermaphrodites. Such traits are important in controlling patterns of mating and affect the level of heterozygosity within individuals, the extent of genetic variation in populations, and the evolutionary potential of populations.

The lab is also interested in the inference and interpretation of phylogenetic histories, the impact of hybridization on plant speciation and reproductive strategies, and comparative studies of features that accompany transitions in sexual strategies, such as the evolution of floral sexual dimorphism or the temporal/spatial segregation of sexual function.  Finally, we are interested in the development of floral morphologies and the roles of phenotypic plasticity and plant architecture in molding reproductive phenotypes.

During my time at Amherst, my group has developed the plant genus Lycium as a useful natural system to study evolutionary transitions of reproductive traits.  Members of this genus vary both in the deployment of sexual function (i.e., some species and populations are hermaphroditic, whereas others have separate sexes), and in the presence of genetically controlled self-incompatibility systems.  This group is also interesting from a molecular systematic perspective given its cosmopolitan distribution, species richness, patterns of hybridization (coupled with variation in ploidy levels), and diverse reproductive systems.

Teaching Interests

FYSE-108: First-year Seminar, Evolution & Intellectual Revolution.  The centerpiece of this course is Darwin and his book On the Origin of Species.

BIOL-424: Seminar in Evolution, Sex & Sexual Reproduction (seminar for BIOL majors).  This seminar explores the nature of sex and sexual reproduction across organisms, considers hypotheses for its origin and maintenance, and studies its diverse consequences in populations.

BIOL-320: Evolutionary Biology (Lecture).  Emphasis is placed on microevolutionary mechanisms of change and their connection to large-scale macroevolutionary patterns and diversity.   

BIOL-321: Evolutionary Biology (Laboratory).  The laboratory investigates evolutionary processes using computer simulations, artificial selection experiments, and a semester-long research project integrating mating phenotypes with patterns of molecular sequence evolution for genes contributing to mating recognition. 

BIOL-106: Why Sex? (non-majors).  Sex is an exceedingly powerful ecological and evolutionary force, responsible for generating a tremendous diversity of morphologies and behaviors.  In this course, we ask: why did sex evolve and what are its consequences?

BIOL-424: Seminar in Evolution, Plant Sexual Diversity (seminar for BIOL majors).  A comprehensive study of plant sexual diversity studied through short lectures and discussion. Readings emphasize integrative studies that use developmental, ecological, population genetic, and phylogenetic approaches to uncover the mechanisms underlying this rich morphological and functional diversity. 

BIOL-181: Adaptation & the Organism (Lecture & Laboratory).  An introduction to the evolution, ecology, & behavior of organisms and how these relate to the diversity of life.  Laboratory exercises involve field experiments on natural selection and laboratory studies of vertebrates, invertebrates and plants. 

ENST-495: Environmental Studies Senior Seminar (capstone course for ENST majors).  The Senior Seminar brings together ENST majors with different course backgrounds and facilitates original independent student research on an environmental topic.

BIOL-498/499D: Senior Departmental Honors.  Honors students take three courses of thesis research, usually, but not always, with the double course load in the spring. The work consists of seminar programs, individual research projects, and preparation of a thesis on the research project.

Special Topics: 290/290H or 490/490H.  I am happy to talk with you about your ideas for Special Topics readings or research credits (in either Environmental Studies or Biology), or sponsor students to undertake a research project in my laboratory.  Full or half (H) course credit options are available. 

Tags:  Jill Miller