Stickleback Research

at Clark University

Laboratory Members

Val and the bird
Valerie Locker, 5th-year Masters

The stickleback laboratory first caught my eye during science preview day 2004 (seriously). I’ve been an avid biology nerd my entire life, and wasted no time in getting started once in college. I joined the lab my freshmen year in the fall of 2005 and have been working here ever since. I have always been fascinated by evolution and ecology, but it was my time at Clark that solidified my love for the environment and fueled my desire to work in conservation. My experiences in the stickleback laboratory allowed me to explore my various research interests while teaching me how to organize and execute different types of studies.

Past Research: I have a diverse history with the stickleback lab, changing my focus a number of times. I began working with armoring morphology, scoring data sets for the re-evolution of the pelvic girdle and investigating variation in pterygiophores (dorsal armor elements). In the spring of 2007 I became interested in foraging behavior during my Animal Behavior course. Through that, I conducted a research project investigating the influence of social learning (learning by watching and interacting with conspecifics) on various aspects of foraging behavior. I am currently writing this work up for publication.

Current Research: In the summer of 2008 I used my Traina Scholarship to continue my research on learning and foraging behavior. I asked whether stickleback use landscape information, and whether they use the behavior of conspecifics to find food. This research also evaluated the relative contributions genetic differences between the populations and rearing environment on the ability to recognize and adopt new foraging behavior. Most recently I have started a project that will combine my biology and geography experience to study relationships between watershed land cover, lake water chemistry, and stickleback traits using a geographic information system (GIS) evaluations of landscape changes in Alaskan watersheds.

Other Activities: I am also the recipient of a Human-Environment Regional Observatory (HERO) Fellowship at Clark University. This allowed me to expand my knowledge, moving from the classic biological scales of individual species to broader scales of the ecosystem and landscape. For my HERO fellowship I studied changes in forests in Massachusetts using GIS data. Currently I am constructing habitat suitability maps for six prominent tree species in Massachusetts. I am using this knowledge to evaluate landcover changes in Alaska, and in collaboration Jana Loux-Turner and others will use the data to understand how Alaskan watersheds in Southcentral Alaska, and the aquatic communities within them, are being influenced by anthropogenic modification.

Outside of Research:

Most of my time is taken up by Ultimate Frisbee. I am lucky enough to be the founder and co-captain of a Worcester women’s ultimate team (formed in fall 2007), with players from Clark, Holy Cross, and WPI. This is only our second year of existence but we have the potential to be an outstanding team this season. I hope we’ll win big at sectionals!


Traina Scholarship for the sciences at Clark University, 2005-2009.

REU with the US Geological Survey on Middleton Island Alaska, summer 2007.

Human-Environment Regional Observatory Fellowship at Clark University, summer 2008

Send Val an email at

Clark University | Worcester, MA | 508.793.7173