Stickleback Research

at Clark University

Laboratory Members

Justin Golub , PhD student

I am interested in the ecology and evolution of learning and predator avoidance. Using threespine stickleback as a model, I am studying learning ability in early life history stages, context-dependence of learned predator recognition and avoidance, and how predator recognition changes during different ontogenetic stages. The rapid evolution of freshwater stickleback populations is ideal for evaluating genetic correlations with learning and adaptive differences in learning among ecotypes.

I received my M.Sc. in Biology from Concordia University in Montreal, Qc, Canada; studying context dependent shifts in the response to sensory alarm cues by Centrarchids. Centrarchids (Bass and Sunfish) undergo multiple life history shifts, consisting of a variety of morphological and behaviors changes, the most interesting of which is the shift from juvenile to sub-adult where centrarchids shift from inshore prey guild members to inshore prey guild predators. I found that during this period behavior is highly plastic and varies with the reliability of sensory cues. Because centrarchids rely on a variety of chemical, visual and mechanical cues to avoid predators and to find prey, limiting some cues should force individuals to rely more heavily on others to make behavioral decisions. I also began looking at risk assessment in larval stages, which has lead to my current interests in the evolution of learning and development.

Learned predator recognition in early life history stages
To avoid falling victim to predation, individuals must learn to recognize and avoid predators quickly and efficiently. Much of this learning occurs early in the lives of individuals when they have little experience with predators. I am interested in exploring the abilities of threespine stickleback fry to recognize and avoid predators. To achieve this I am examining how newly hatched threespine stickleback use a variety of visual, chemical and mechanical cues to recognize predators, and to learn the behaviors necessary to avoid being eaten. I am also interested in the heritability of learning, and how learning abilities vary between populations as a function of predator regime.

Context-dependent learning
The context or circumstances in which we learn to recognize danger can affect how we recognize and respond to the same potential dangers in novel situations. For example, humans typically learn to recognize fire though trial and error with the stove as a child. Most of the time they learn to recognize fire’s distinguishing features, although some fail to immediately recognize it under different circumstances (e.g. a campfire). By varying a predator’s distinguishing features, and the circumstances of a predator encounter, we can better understand the importance of distinguishing features (coloration, shape, etc.) during encounters, and how recognition may favor different features during different life history stages.

Contact Information
Biology Department, Clark University
950 Main St.
Worcester, MA 01610

Previous Degrees
M.Sc., Biology, Concorida University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2004
B.S., Biology, Union College, Schenectady, NY, 2002



Wund, M. A., Baker, J. A., Clancy, B., Golub, J. & Foster, S. A. 2008. A test of the 'flexible stem' model of evolution: ancestral plasticity, genetic accommodation, and morphological divergence in the threespine stickleback radiation The American Naturalist. 172, 449-462.

Justin L. Golub, Veronique Vermette and Grant E. Brown (2005). Response to conspecific and heterospecific alarm cues by pumpkinseeds (Lepomis gibbosus): field verification of the ontogenetic shift. Journal of Fish Biology, 66: 1073-1081.

Justin L. Golub and Grant E. Brown. (2003). Are all signals the same?: Ontogenetic change in the response to conspecific and heterospecific chemical alarm signals by juvenile green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 54: 113-118.

Brown, Grant E., Devon L. Gershaneck, Desiree L. Plata and Justin L. Golub. (2002). Ontogenetic changes in response to heterospecific alarm pheromones by juvenile largemouth bass are phenotypically plastic. Behaviour, 139: 913-927.

Brown, Grant E., Justin L. Golub and Desiree Plata. (2001). Attack cone avoidance during predator inspection visits by wild finescale dace (Phoxinus neogaeus): the effects of predator diet. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 27, 1657-1666.

Teaching Experience

Clark University | Worcester, MA | 508.793.7173