505 S. Goodwin Ave.
Urbana, IL 61801
Biologists and non-biologists alike are fascinated by both widespread similarities and prodigious diversity in animal behavior. Nature documentaries, conservation agencies, and educators capitalize on the intuitive appeal of the fact that human and non-human animals exhibit similar behaviors – including aggression, courtship, and parental care – as well as the amazing diversity of forms these behaviors take and adaptations animals have to perform them. A modern extension of this fascination asks whether similarities in behavior are governed by the same underlying mechanisms. Exploration of underlying mechanisms can improve our understanding of the phenomena that shape evolution and dictate organisms’ ability to adapt to novel and changing environments. Moreover, the accuracy of the assumption that shared phenotypes share underlying mechanisms is central to the success or failure of using non-human model organisms in biomedical research. I use integrative approaches to address these questions across hierarchical levels of biological organization (from gene networks, to neural circuits, to physiology, to behavior) and timescales (from immediate, to developmental, to evolutionary). I believe that fundamental principles governing brains and behavior are most apparent in evolutionary and developmental contexts. I therefore leverage natural behavioral diversity with technological advances that allow cutting edge work outside of traditional model systems. Just as we need human diversity in our teaching and research spaces, we need diversity in our study systems to address fundamental open questions and to distinguish shared core principles from species-specific diversity in the biological bases of behavior and its evolution.
My team is currently pursuing research unified by (1) the use model species suited to addressing questions left open by traditional systems; (2) the integration of intra- and inter- specific variation; and (3) the conceptual themes of individual variation, ecological context, and the importance of examining underlying mechanisms. Morphological, physiological, and behavioral diversity within and among anurans (frogs and toads) provides the opportunity to conduct powerful comparative and evolutionary neuroscience. Parental care has independently evolved and diversified (including male-only, female-only, and biparental care), more frequently among anurans than any other tetrapod group. This diversity allows us to distinguish shared, core mechanisms from sex- and species- specific variation. In particular, male uniparental care provides a critical comparison to mechanistic research in mammals which is heavily female biased due to offspring dependence on mothers for milk. As a complement to adult behavior, anuran larvae (tadpoles) also exhibit remarkable diversity in morphology and behavior, and are particularly tractable for study thanks to large, externally developing embryos that allow for easy manipulation and visualization throughout development. Beyond the lab, frogs are charismatic creatures that facilitate teaching and community engagement. Learn more about our research at ekfischerlab.com and about our community engagement activities at FischerFrogFolks.com.
BA (2007) College of Arts & Sciences, Cornell University
PhD (2015) Colorado State University - Advisor: Dr Kim L Hoke
NSF Postdoctoral Fellow (2015 - 2017) Center for Systems Biology, Harvard University - Advisor: Dr. Lauren A O'Connell
Postdoctoral Fellow (2017 - 2020) Department of Biology, Stanford University - Advisor: Dr. Lauren A O'Connell
Additional Campus Affiliations
Assistant Professor, Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior
Assistant Professor, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Affiliate, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology
Moss, J. B., Tumulty, J. P., & Fischer, E. K. (2023). Evolution of acoustic signals associated with cooperative parental behavior in a poison frog. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(17), Article e2218956120. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2218956120
Terrill Sondag, E. E., Stewart Merrill, T. E., Drnevich, J., Holmes, J. R., Fischer, E. K., Cáceres, C. E., & Strickland, L. R. (2023). Differential gene expression in response to fungal pathogen exposure in the aquatic invertebrate, Daphnia dentifera. Ecology and Evolution, 13(8), Article e10354. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.10354
Westrick, S. E., Moss, J. B., & Fischer, E. K. (2023). Who cares? An integrative approach to understanding the evolution of behavioural plasticity in parental care. Animal Behaviour, 200, 225-236. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2022.10.005
Westrick, S. E., Laslo, M., & Fischer, E. K. (2022). The Natural History of Model Organisms: The big potential of the small frog Eleutherodactylus coqui. eLife, 11, Article e73401. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.73401
Fischer, E. K., Hauber, M. E., & Bell, A. M. (2021). Back to the basics? Transcriptomics offers integrative insights into the role of space, time and the environment for gene expression and behaviour. Biology Letters, 17(9), Article 20210293. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2021.0293