Aaron Wagner, Post-doc
In my work, I use the incipiently social striped hyena Hyaena hyaena as a model species for studies focused on evolutionary ecology. Data from Hyaena are valuable for addressing questions related to the evolution of group formation, female social dominance, behavioral ontogeny, social 'intelligence' and female urogenital masculinization, among others. Accordingly, my research with Hyaena is broad in scope and includes applying our new-found understanding of the species' ecology to test dominant contemporary hypotheses regarding social evolution.
I am also examining the patterns and underlying processes of sexual development and differentiation in Hyaena. There is a marked, transient convergence in the appearance of juvenile male and female genitalia in Hyaena. Postnatal transience, combined with simultaneous 'masculinization' and 'feminization', makes striped hyenas an ideal and naturally occurring experimental platform from which we can develop (comparative) animal models of the patterns and processes involved in sexual differentiation, both behavioral and morphological. Increasing indirect evidence indicates that the mechanisms underlying masculine (or masculinized) development may not follow traditional androgenic pathways. The nature of genital development in Hyaena provides a unique opportunity to identify what other mechanism might be at work. My interest in these developmental questions is closely tied to my concurrent work in social evolution because the underlying mechanisms ultimately evolved and operate in the face of selective pressures rooted in animal behavior and ecology.
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