Professional and Biographical Information


Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin, Ecology Evolution & Behavior (2021)
B.A., Cornell University, Biology (2015)

Awards and Honors

NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology, Emory University, 2020
NASEM Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, University of Texas at Austin, 2017

Research Interests

How does the social world we live in shape our actions, our brains, and our communities? To ask this question, my research explores the complex social lives of fish. Previously I have investigated the mating behavior of Central American guppies and the dominance hierarchies of African cichlids. In our lab, we study a species that has evolved through both natural and artificial selection: for centuries humans have bred Betta splendens (also known as the Siamese fighting fish) for a highly aggressive phenotype. How has this artificial adaptation in aggression “pulled” other behavioral, neural, and physiological traits, and at what cost?

Specifically, in our lab:

  1. We use mazes, problem-solving tasks, and memory tasks to identify cognitive traits that give Betta an advantage in social competitions.
  2. We stain brain tissue for specific proteins using immunohistochemistry to quantify important neuromodulators of behavior such as dopamine and oxytocin. We also characterize neural activity, allowing us to “take a snapshot” of the brain as it responds to a social experience.
  3. We measure hormonal responses to different social contexts, assessing an animal’s levels of testosterone and cortisol.
  4. We manipulate the social environment by designing different community compositions to explore how social experiences influence Betta.

Teaching Interests

In 1963, Dutch biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen described four approaches to explain animal behavior: mechanism, ontogeny, function, and phylogeny. My teaching interests span biology from neuroscience to evolution, incorporating all of Tinbergen’s approaches. When I teach biology, I use Tinbergen’s Four Questions because I believe that understanding a topic from multiple perspectives makes us not only better scientists, but more effective thinkers.

Mechanism: We can explain the behavior by understanding the systems in the body that enable it, such as body parts, hormones, or activity in the brain. For example, bats’ ears are shaped so that they can hear their own echo as they fly at night.

Ontogeny: We can explain behavior by understanding the development of the animal across its lifespan. For example, certain finches have a limited time window as juveniles to learn to sing by listening to the adults around them.

Function: We can explain behavior by understanding its benefit to the animal’s survival and reproduction. For example, monarch butterflies migrate to warmer habitats to survive the winter.

Phylogeny: We can explain behavior by understanding how it has evolved across related species. For example, both blue jays and parrots can fly because they share the same common ancestor who also flew.

Selected Publications

AM Kelly, BA Fricker, KJ Wallace (2022) Protocol for multiplex fluorescent immunohistochemistry in free-floating vertebrate tissue STAR Protocols 3(4): 101672.

KJ Wallace, K Choudhary, L Kutty, D Le, M Lee, K Wu, HA Hofmann (2021) Social ascent changes cognition, behavior, and physiology in a highly social cichlid fish. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 377: 20200448.

KJ Wallace & HA Hofmann (2021) Decision-making in a social world: integrating cognitive ecology and social neuroscience. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 68:152-158.

KJ Wallace* & JM York* (2020) A systems change framework for evaluating academic equity and inclusion in an Ecology and Evolution Graduate Program. Ecology and Evolution 10(20):10922-10929. (*authors contributed equally to this work)

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