• Evolution of ecological novelty
    Why does scale-eating rarely evolve?
  • Sympatric speciation in volcanic crater lakes
    Cast-netting for endemic cichlids in Lake Kotto, Cameroon
  • Measuring the adaptive landscape
    "When biologists think about the evolution of life, they think about climbing mountains." -Carl Zimmer
  • Developmental genetics
    Identifying novel craniofacial gene functions
  • Evolutionary diversification rates
    Morphogram illustrating trait diversification rates in San Salvador Island pupfishes
  • Conservation genomics
    Protecting endangered species through genetic analysis

About the lab

Welcome to the Martin fish speciation lab! We are evolutionary biologists broadly interested in the ecology, evolution, development, and genomics of adaptive radiation in fishes. We use field experiments, natural history, population genomics, behavioral ecology, functional morphology, quantitative and functional genetics, and phylogenetic methods to dissect this process at the mesoevolutionary scale: within rapid radiations of three or more species.

We are primarily developing two tropical field systems for studying the origins of adaptive radiation:
1) Microendemic radiations of trophic specialist pupfishes found on San Salvador Island, Bahamas and Laguna Chichankanab, Mexico.
2) Cameroon crater lake cichlids, famous as putative examples of sympatric speciation.
3) We also use conservation genomics to inform management of the critically endangered Devil's Hole pupfish and work on ex situ conservation of extinct-in-the-wild pupfishes.
4) Finally, we are developing new systems, including ongoing projects on lungfish cocoon formation, vision in four-eyed fish, and lanternfish genomics.

Common themes in our work include
1) the genetic, behavioral, and environmental origins of adaptive radiation,
2) connecting micro- to macroevolution through performance and fitness landscapes, and
3) the evolution of ecological and morphological novelty.

Joining the lab

If you are intrigued by the speciation process, drawn to tropical field systems, and you have a particular thing about fish, I strongly encourage you to contact me! I am currently accepting PhD students through Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

The IB graduate program is described here (annual admissions deadline is December 3rd). For those considering a PhD, I would suggest reading the perspective of my undergraduate advisor Sonke Johnsen here. I am the first Curator of Ichthyology at UC Berkeley and our lab is based inside the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology with extensive shared spaces for molecular genetics work, student offices, specimen preparation, data analysis, and the growing MVZ Ichthyology collection. We also maintain fish colonies in four fish rooms plus roof-top field mesocosm ponds.

I am always open to sponsoring external and internal postdoctoral fellowship applicants, such as the NSF PRFB, NIH F32, Miller Research Fellowship, or the UC Chancellor's postdoctoral fellowship. I am happy to discuss proposal ideas from prospective applicants.

(Scale-eating art by Sarah Dahlinger)

Martin Lab anti-racism statement

The murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, Rayshard Brooks, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, and so many more by our police state deeply saddens and enrages us. These ongoing killings show how deeply white supremacy has rooted itself in our country. We believe that Black Lives Matter and we stand in solidarity with our Black colleagues, students, and protesters. We are committed to anti-racism and increasing diversity and inclusion in our lab group, department, mentorship, research, teaching, and academic spaces overall. We also recognize that white supremacy in STEM, particularly acute in our field of Evolution and Ecology and our department, is a major failing of our scientific community and is an ongoing crisis for science. Centuries of systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia in science and academia has left us with a largely homogeneous faculty of white men unequipped to take on our most pressing national and global crises. We also recognize that our own research interests and understanding of nature have been skewed by this history of racism and the genocide of Indigenous communities and their traditional knowledge. The scientific contributions of BIPOC have been and continue to be ignored, stolen, and erased.

We strongly believe that dismantling white supremacy is the only moral choice. This promotes innovation, accelerates discovery and scientific excellence by increasing equitable access to this profession that we love, and increases our ability to communicate science and serve as role models to the local, national, and international communities we serve. We are stronger together.

Lab Members

Christopher Martin

Principal Investigator

CV email @fishspeciation


Recorded talks:
Berkeley 2015: postdoc talk, 2018: job talk, 2021: tenure talk

Evolution 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019


David Tian

Graduate Student 2019-present

By combining population genetics, functional genetics, and fitness experiments, I aim to gain a comprehensive and mechanistic understanding of adaptation. Specifically, I am interested in how genetic variation underlying adaptive traits is shaped across time and space in populations and how these loci interact with each other at a molecular level to produce phenotypes. To this end, I am focused on investigating how and why a rare scale-eating trophic specialist evolved its novel and extreme craniofacial morphology.
website email


Charles Tralka

Graduate Student 2023-present

I am interested in studying convergently evolved traits associated with diet specializations through a genetic and anatomical perspective. Previously, I have examined the anatomy and physiology of both moray eels and pinnipeds, and studied the behavior of neural crest cells using the marine lamprey as a model organism.


Maria Fernanda (feña) Palominos

Postdoctoral Scholar 2021-present

As a developmental neurobiologist, I am broadly interested in the genetic basis of vertebrate sensory systems evolution. In the Martin lab, I will use my expertise in developmental neurogenetics and microscopy to understand how the genetic variation observed in San Salvador's Cyprinodon pupfishes creates distinctive craniofacial morphologies. When not in the lab, I can probably be found writing, reading, biking, walking, or just looking into nature.
website email


Matt Kustra

Miller Postdoctoral Fellow 2024-present

My research integrates fieldwork, behavioral, experimental, and theoretical approaches to understand the processes that create and maintain species variation. During my dissertation, I studied how cryptic female choice—a process where females bias fertilization to specific males—influences the evolution of male behavior and the creation of new species. I also developed mathematical models to understand the ecological-evolutionary dynamics of microbe-host interactions in marine invertebrates. In the Martin lab, I will explore how natural and sexual selection interact to rapidly create many new species by developing new theoretical models and testing them with empirical work on Cyprinodon pupfish.
website email


Rebecca Abrams

Ichthyology Collection Manager 2023-present

I’ve been a museum nerd for as long as I can remember, so getting to work in one is basically a dream come true. The possibilities for research they contain and the wonder that they bring to visitors are why I work to conserve and expand these collections. Every time I go into a collection there is something new and exciting to discover that is just waiting to be shared with others.


Lauren Simonse

Research technician 2024-present

I have been interested in evolutionary biology ever since I was young and am currently studying the phenotypic effects of different candidate genes in pupfish. Previously, I studied the effect of host-parasite interaction on evolution in threespine stickleback. I hope to continue to study evolutionary and developmental biology through various lenses.

Alumni: Grad students


Jacquelyn Galvez

Graduate Student 2019-2021

Currently a PhD candidate in Jack Tseng's FAVE lab. email

Alumni: Postdocs

Jelmer Poelstra

Postdoctoral scholar 2016-2017

Demographic history of diversification in Cameroon crater lake cichlids (Mol Ecol 2018). Following a second postdoc in Anne Yoder's lab at Duke University, Jelmer is now a bioinformaticist at the Molecular and Cellular Imaging Center, Ohio State University.


Joseph Heras

Postdoctoral Scholar 2020

Microbiome diversity and function in Caribbean pupfishes (in prep). Currently (August, 2020) an Assistant Professor in the Biology Department at CSU San Bernardino. website email


Austin Patton

Postdoctoral Scholar 2020-2022 website email

Group Photos

Fish collecting Albany Marine Park (2021)

Lab meeting (2020)

Fish collecting trip to Albany Marine Park, CA (2019)

Fish faces (2019)

How to transport 1,000+ fishes +1 pug across the country...

Loading up the live fishes!

Darwin Day at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences (2019)

Pupfishing on San Salvador Island, Bahamas (2018)

Collecting pupfish at Fort Fisher, NC (2017)

March for Science (2017) (guess which 2 are lab members?!)

Alumni: Lab managers and undergrads


Vanessa Muhl

Lab Manager 2022-2023

Currently lab manager at Texas A&M

Nicole Suren

Lab Manager 2019-2020

Kristi Dixon

Lab Manager 2018-2019

Currently lab manager for the Peifer lab.

Maria Solano

Lab Technician 2018-2019

Delaney O'Connell

Undergraduate 2019-2020

Currently a PhD candidate in Maria Servedio's lab.

Logan Buie

Lab Manager 2017-2018

Currently staff at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Jackson Waite-Himmelright

Barombi Mbo, Cameroon field technician 2016

Currently a prospective graduate student

Stephanie Jeselson

Undergraduate 2016-2017

Clare Bocklage

Undergraduate 2015-2017

Katelyn Gould

Lab Manager 2015-2017

Currently a grad student in John Bruno's lab at UNC Chapel Hill


Google scholar profile

*Graduate students, †Postdoctoral scholars, •Undergraduate students

Richards EJ*, Martin CH. 2021. We get by with a little help from our friends: Diversity begets diversity through shared adaptive genetic variation. preprint

Patton AH†, Richards EJ*, Gould KJ, Buie LK, Martin CH. 2021. The first genotypic fitness network in a vertebrate reveals that hybridization increases access to novel fitness peaks. preprint

St. John ME*, Richards EJ*, Dunker JC•, Romero S•, Martin CH. 2021. Parallel genetic changes underlie integrated craniofacial traits in an adaptive radiation of trophic specialist pupfishes. preprint

Heras J†, Martin CH. 2021. Nonadaptive radiation of the gut microbiome in an adaptive radiation of Cyprinodon pupfishes with minor shifts for scale-eating. preprint

Richards EJ*, McGirr JA*, Jeremy Wang J, St John ME*, Poelstra JW†, Solano MJ•, O'Connell DC•, Turner BJ, Martin CH. 2021. A vertebrate adaptive radiation is assembled from an ancient and disjunct spatiotemporal landscape. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences pdf supplement

McGirr JA*, Martin CH. 2021. Few fixed variants between trophic specialist pupfish species reveal candidate cis-regulatory alleles underlying rapid craniofacial divergence. Molecular Biology and Evolution 38:405-423. pdf

Higham TE, Ferry LA, Schmitz L, Irschick DJ, Starko S, Anderson PSL, Bergmann PJ, Jamniczky HA, Monteiro LR, Navon D, Messier J, Carrington E, Farina SC, Feilich KL, Hernandez LP, Johnson MA, Kawano SM, Law CJ, Longo SJ, Martin CH, Martone PT, Rico-Guevara A, Santana SE, Niklas KJ. 2021. Linking ecomechanical models and functional traits to understand phenotypic diversity. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. In press. pdf

Perevolotsky T, Martin CH, Rivlin A, Holzman R. 2020. Work that body: fin and body movements determine herbivore feeding behavior in a natural reef environment. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 287:20201903. pdf

Olsson KH, Martin CH, Holzman R. 2020. Hydrodynamic simulations of the performance landscape for suction-feeding fishes reveal multiple peaks for different prey types. Integrative and Comparative Biology pdf

Martin CH, Gould K. 2020. Surprising spatiotemporal stability of a multi-peak fitness landscape revealed by field experiments measuring hybrid fitness. Evolution Letters 4:530-544. pdf

McGirr JA*, Martin CH. 2020. Ecological divergence in sympatry causes gene misexpression in hybrids. Molecular Ecology pdf

St. John ME*, Dixon KE•, Martin CH. 2020. Oral shelling within an adaptive radiation of pupfishes: Testing the adaptive function of a novel nasal protrusion and behavioral preference. Journal of Fish Biology pdf

St. John ME*, Holzman R, Martin CH. 2020. Rapid adaptive evolution of scale-eating kinematics to a novel ecological niche. pdf

Gillespie RG, Bennett GM, De Meester L, Feder JL, Fleischer RC, Harmon LJ, Hendry AP, Knope ML, Mallet J, Martin CH, Parent CE, Patton AH†, Pfennig KS, Rubinoff D, Schluter D, Seehausen O, Shaw KL, Stacy E, Stervander M, Stroud JT, Wagner CE, Wogan GO. 2020. Comparing adaptive radiations across space, time, and taxa. Journal of Heredity. 111:1-20. pdf

Martin CH, Richards EJ*. 2019. The paradox behind the pattern of rapid adaptive radiation: How can the speciation process sustain itself through an early burst? Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 50:569-593. pdf

Martin CH, McGirr JA*, Richards EJ*, St. John ME*. 2019. How to investigate the origins of novelty: insights gained from genetic, behavioral, and fitness perspectives. Integrative Organismal Biology pdf

McGirr JA*, Martin CH. 2019. Hybrid gene misregulation in multiple developing tissues within a recent adaptive radiation of Cyprinodon pupfishes. PLOS One 14:e0218899. pdf

Richards EJ*, Servedio MR, Martin CH. 2019. Searching for sympatric speciation in the genomic era. BioEssays 41:1900047. pdf

St. John ME*, McGirr JA*, Martin CH. 2019. The behavioral origins of novelty: did increased aggression lead to scale-eating in pupfishes? Behavioral Ecology 30:557-569. pdf

Martin CH, Richards EJ*. 2019. The paradox behind the pattern of rapid adaptive radiation: how can the speciation process sustain itself through an early burst? Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics pdf

Davis AL•, Babb MH•, Lowe MC•, Yeh AT•, Lee BT•, Martin CH. 2019. Testing Darwin’s hypothesis about the wonderful Venus flytrap: marginal spikes form a “horrid prison” for moderate-sized insect prey. American Naturalist 93:309-317. pdf Media: Atlas Obscura Phys.org ScienceDaily

McGirr JA*, Martin CH. 2018. Parallel evolution of gene expression between trophic specialists despite divergent genotypes and morphologies. Evolution Letters 2:62-75. pdf

Richards EJ*, Poelstra JW†, Martin CH. 2018. Don’t throw out the sympatric species with the crater lake water: fine-scale investigation of introgression provides weak support for functional role of secondary gene flow. Evolution Letters 2:524-540. pdf

Poelstra JW†, Richards EJ*, Martin CH. 2018. Speciation in sympatry with ongoing secondary gene flow and a potential olfactory trigger in a radiation of Cameroon cichlids. Molecular Ecology 27:4270–4288. pdf

Martin CH, Turner BJ. 2018. Long-distance dispersal over land by fishes: extremely rare ecological events become probable over millennial timescales. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 285: 20172436. pdf

Zeng Y•, Martin CH. 2017. Oxford Nanopore sequencing in a research-based undergraduate course. preprint

Keren T, Kiflawi M, Martin CH, China V, Mann O, Holzman R. 2017. A complex performance landscape for suction-feeding reveals constraints and adaptations in a population of reef damselfish. preprint

Hernandez LP, Adriaens D, Martin CH, Wainwright PC, Masschaele B, Derick M. 2017. Building trophic specializations that result in substantial niche partitioning within a young adaptive radiation. Journal of Anatomy. 232:173-185. pdf

Richards EJ*, Martin CH. 2017. Adaptive introgression from distant Caribbean islands contributed to the diversification of a microendemic radiation of trophic specialist pupfishes. PLOS Genetics 13:e1006919. pdf Media: ScienceDaily

Stager JC, Alton K, Martin CH, King DT, Livingstone DT. 2017. On the age and origin of Lake Ejagham and its endemic fishes. 2017. Quaternary Research. 89:21-32. pdf

Martin CH, Höhna S. 2017. New evidence for the recent divergence of Devil's Hole pupfish and the plausibility of elevated mutation rates in endangered taxa. Molecular Ecology. 27:831-83. pdf

Martin CH, Höhna S, Crawford JE, Turner BJ, Richards EJ*, Simons LH. 2017. The complex effects of demographic history on the estimation of substitution rate: concatenated gene analysis results in no more than twofold overestimation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 284:20170537. pdf

Martin CH, Erickson PA, Miller CT. 2017. The genetic architecture of novel trophic specialists: higher effect sizes are associated with exceptional oral jaw diversification in a pupfish adaptive radiation. Molecular Ecology 26:624-638. pdf supplement

McGirr JA*, Martin CH. 2016. Novel candidate genes underlying extreme trophic specialization in Caribbean pupfishes. Molecular Biology and Evolution 34:873-888. pdf supplement Media: Phys.org ScienceDaily

Martin CH. 2016. The cryptic origins of evolutionary novelty: 1,000-fold-faster trophic diversification rates without increased ecological opportunity or hybrid swarm. Evolution 70:2504-2519. pdf supplement

Higham TE, Rogers SM, Langerhans RB, Jamniczky HA, Lauder GV, Stewart WJ, Martin CH, Reznick DN. 2016. Speciation through the lens of biomechanics: locomotion, prey capture, and reproductive isolation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283:1294-1304. pdf

Martin CH. 2016. Context-dependence in complex adaptive landscapes: frequency and trait-dependent selection surfaces within an adaptive radiation of Caribbean pupfishes. Evolution 69:1406-1422. pdf supplement

Martin CH, Crawford JE, Turner BJ, Simons LH. 2016. Diabolical survival in Death Valley: recent pupfish colonization, gene flow, and genetic assimilation in the smallest species range on earth. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283:23-34. pdf supplement Media: Nature Science Science Magazine BBC Discovery News New Scientist Quirks and Quarks CBC radio interview

Martin CH, Cutler JS, Friel JP, Dening Touokong C, Coop G, Wainwright PC. 2015. Complex histories of repeated gene flow in Cameroon crater lake cichlids cast doubt on one of the clearest examples of sympatric speciation. Evolution 69:1406-1422. pdf Jerry Coyne's jubilant blog posts: 1 2

Musilová Z, Indermaur A, Nyom ARB, Tropek R, Martin CH, Schliewen UK. 2014. Persistence of Stomatepia mongo, an endemic cichlid fish of the Barombi Mbo Crater Lake, Southwestern Cameroon, with notes on its life history and behavior. Copeia 2014:556-560. pdf

Martin CH, Feinstein LC. 2014. Novel trophic niches drive variable progress toward ecological speciation within an adaptive radiation of pupfishes. Molecular Ecology. 23: 1846-1862. pdf

Martin CH, Wainwright PC. 2013. A remarkable species flock of Cyprinodon pupfishes endemic to San Salvador Island, Bahamas. Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History. 54:231-240. pdf  Media: UC Davis blog, Seriously Fish.

Schmitz L, Motani R, Oufiero CE,Martin CH, McGee MD, Wainwright PC. 2013. Potential enhanced ability of giant squid to detect sperm whales is an exaptation tied to their large body size. BMC Evolutionary Biology 13:226. pdf

Friedman M, Keck BP, Dornburg A, Eytan RI, Martin CH, Hulsey CD, Wainwright PC, Near TJ. 2013. Molecular and fossil evidence place the origin of cichlid fishes long after Gondwanan rifting. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280:1770. pdf

Martin CH, Wainwright PC. 2013. On the measurement of ecological novelty: scale-eating pupfish are separated by 168 million years from other scale-eating fishes. PLOS One 8:e71164. pdf

Martin CH. 2013. Strong assortative mating by diet, color, size, and morphology but limited progress toward sympatric speciation in a classic example: Cameroon crater lake cichlids. Evolution 67:2114-2123. pdf

Martin CH, Wainwright PC. 2013. Multiple fitness peaks on the adaptive landscape drive adaptive radiation in the wild. Science 339:208-211. pdf supplement press release Media: Carl Zimmer's blog.  Seriously Fish. Der Spiegel. Nothing in Biology Makes Sense.WhyFiles. Davis Enterprise.

Schmitz L, Motani R, Oufiero CE, Martin CH, McGee MD, Gamarra AR, Lee JJ, Wainwright PC. 2013. Allometry indicates giant eyes of giant squid are not exceptional. BMC Evolutionary Biology 13:45. pdf

Martin CH. 2012. Weak disruptive selection and incomplete phenotypic divergence in two classic examples of sympatric speciation: Cameroon crater lake cichlids. American Naturalist 180:E90-109. pdf supplement press release 

Martin CH, Wainwright PC. 2011. Trophic novelty is linked to exceptional rates of morphological diversification in two adaptive radiations of Cyprinodon pupfishes. Evolution 65:2197-2212. pdf.supplement. press release. F1000. Media: MSNBC. UC Davis Aggie. Practical Fishkeeping. KillieNutz. LiveScience. anti-evolution press: Lutheran. spoof attack.

Martin CH. 2010. Unexploited females and unreliable signals of male quality in a Malawi cichlid bower polymorphism. Behavioral Ecology 21:1195-1202. pdf

Martin CH, Genner MJ. 2009. A role for male bower size as an intrasexual signal in a Lake Malawi cichlid fish. Behaviour 146:963-978. pdf

Martin CH, Genner MJ. 2009. High niche overlap between two successfully coexisting pairs of Lake Malawi cichlids.  Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 66:579-588. pdf supplement

Martin CH, Johnsen S. 2007. A field test of the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis in the guppy Poecilia reticulata. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 61:1897-1909. pdf

Yang AS, Martin CH, Nijhout HF. 2004. Geographic variation of caste structure among ant populations. Current Biology 14: 514-519. pdf.


Red Sea 2019

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Bahamas 2017

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Cameroon 2016

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Bahamas 2015

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Bahamas 2014

Bahamas 2013

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Death Valley 2012

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Bahamas 2011

Dominican Republic 2011

Limia perugiae collected from Lago Enriquillo.

Cameroon 2010

Sarotherodon knauerae, previously S.

Mexico 2009

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Bahamas 2008

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Malawi 2006-2007

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Madagascar 2005

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Peru 2004

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Trinidad 2004

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Costa Rica 2003

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