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Gonser, Rusty A

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Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany

Phone: 812-237-2395


Office:  Science Building 298

Research Interests: population genetics; conservation biology; herpetology.

White-throated sparrow Web Site

Dr. Elaina M. Tuttle Biography 

Dr. Gonser's primary research interests focus on conservation of species due to loss of suitable habitat and continuing habitat fragmentation. More specifically, he studies proximate and ultimate aspects affecting population structure. This includes such factors as behavior, ecology, and evolution. Dr. Gonser is currently studying gene flow and genetic diversity of the white-tailed deer, Odecoiles virginianus. White-tailed deer have a large, ubiquitous geographic distribution and are important to the North American ecosystem, as well as the economy. He is investigating the genetic structure of a reproductively isolated population of white-tailed deer in southern Maryland using mitochondrial DNA sequence. This population was originally colonized from a few individuals from Virginia.

Dr. Gonser's previous work examined the genetic structure of the Puerto Rican frog, Eleutherodactylus coqui, using molecular and behavioral techniques. He found that coquíes from eastern Puerto Rico are distinctly different than coquíes from western Puerto Rico, indicating that the two populations have become isolated over recent evolutionary time. As part of this research, Dr. Gonser developed a technique for the use of amphibian toe-clips as important sources of genetic information (e.g. DNA sequence), which can be collected without detrimental effects on the population.

Dr. Gonser (in collaboration with Dr. Elaina Tuttle) studies White-throated Sparrows. This long-term project examines how ecology, behavior, genetics, and physiology maintain natural variation through their influence on the evolution of life-history strategies, phenotypic expression, and both the relative fitness and frequency of genotypes within a population. This project focusses on the maintenance of polymorphism via disassortative mating in the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). The work on white-throated sparrows examines how individuals maximize fitness through the differential allocation of time, energy, and resources. Questions address how individuals balance various life history trade-offs, and how life-history trade-offs generate variance that affects the evolution of sexually-selected characters. The research differs from many conventional evolutionary study as it employs concepts and techniques borrowed from other areas of biology. This research uses observational and experimental methods in the field and laboratory, molecular genetic techniques (e.g. minisatellite DNA fingerprinting, microsatellites, RAPDs, AFLPs), physiological techniques (e.g. semen sampling, hormonal analyses, and immunological analyses), and other multi-disciplinary techniques (e.g. karyotyping, histology). An integrative approach often reveals new alternative hypotheses and allows investigation of evolutionary questions at proximate and ultimate levels.

Selected Research Publications

Reprints for some publlications are available as PDF files. By accessing the PDF file, the user agrees to abide by all copyright laws and education fair-use regulations.

Barcelo-Serra, M., Gordo, O., Tuttle, E., and Gonser, R.  2020.  Behavioral polymorphism in wintering white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis). Animal Behavior, 164:91-98, DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2020.04.002

Newhouse, D., Barcelo-Serra, M., Tuttle, E., Gonser, R. and Balakrishnian, C. 2019.  Parent and offspring genotypes influence gene expression in early life.  Molecular Ecology.  28:  4166-4180. 

Francesca, B., Firestone, K., Bellacchio, E., Jackson, K., Asamoah, A., Hersh, J., Fiorito, V., Destefanis, F., Gonser, R., Tucker, M., Altrude, F., Tolosano., and Chiabrando, D. 2019. Heme and Sensory neuropathy: insights from novel mutations in the heme exporter feline leukemia virus subgroup C receptor 1. Pain, Vol. 160(12): 2766-2775.  https://doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001675

Romanov, M.N., Betuel, A.M., Chemnick, L.G., Ryder, O.A., Kulibaba, R.O., Tereshchenko, O.V., Payne, W.S., Payne, Delekta, Ph. C., Dogson, J.B., Tuttle, E.M., and Gonser, R.A2019.  Widely applicable  PCR markers for sex identification in birds.  Russian Journal of Genetics, 55(2):  220-221 https://DOI:  10.1134/S1022795419020121

Grunst, A., Grunst, M., Koroday, M., Forrette, L., Gonser, R., and Tuttle, E. 2019 Extra-pair mating and the strength of sexual selection:  Insights from a polymorphic species. Behavioral Ecology

Grunst, A.S., Grunst, M.L., Formica, V.A., Korody, M.L., Betuel, A.M., Barcelo-Serra, M., Ford, S., Gonser, R.A., and Tuttle, E.M. 2018.  Actuarial senescence in a dimorphic bird:  different rates of ageing in morphs with discrete reproductive strategies.  Proceedings of the Royal Society B,

Grunst, A.S., Grunst, M.L., Formica, V.A., Korody, M.L., Betuel, A.M., Barcelo-Serra, M., Ford, S., Gonser, R.A., and Tuttle, E.M. 2018. Morph-specific patterns of reproductive senescence: connections to discrete reproductive strategies American Naturalist 191(6):744-755.

Grunst, M.L., Grunst, A.S., Formica, V.A., Gonser, R.A., and Tuttle, E.M. 2018. Multiple signaling functions of song in a polymorphic species with alternative reproductive strategies. Ecology and Evolution 8:1369-1383.

Bollinger, P., Bollinger, E.K., Daniel, S., Gonser, R., and Tuttle, E.  2018.  Partial incubation during egg laying reduces eggshell microbial loads in a temperate-breeding passerine. Journal of Avian Biology,

Grunst, A., Grunst, Gonser, R., and Tuttle, E. 2017. Developmental stress and telomere dynamics in a genetically polymorphic species.  Journal of Evolutionary Biology,

Grunst, A., Grunst, Gonser, R., and Tuttle, E. 2017.  Breeding synchrony and extrapair paternity I a species with alternative reproductive strategies.  Journal of Avian Biology,

Tuttle, E.M., Grunst, A.S., Grunst, M.L., Formica, V.A., Korody, M.L., Betuel, A.M., Barcelo-Serra, M., Bierly, G., and Gonser, R.A. 2017.  Climatically driven changes in population composition and offspring sex-morph ratio in a polymorphic species.  Ecosophere.

*Hedrick, P., Gonser, R., and Tuttle, E.  Negative-assortative mating in the white-throated sparrow Journal of Heredity 109(3):  223-231. *Cover article

Grunst, A.S., Grunst, M.L., Rathbun, N.A., Hubbard, J.K., Safran, R.J., Gonser, R.A., and Tuttle, E.M. 2017.  Disruptive selection on plumage coloration across genetically determined morphs. Animal Behaviour 124 (2017) 97-108.

Gonser, R. and Ketterson, E. (2017) Elaina Marie Tuttle, 1963–2016. The Auk: July 2017, Vol. 134, No.  3, pp. 778-779.

Nicholls C., Kump A., Ford S., Gonser R., Cho KH. 2017. Draft genome sequence of Streptococcus pyogenes strain M3KCL. Genome Announc 5:e00610-17.

Tuttle, E.M., Grunst, A.S., Grunst, M.L., Korody, M.L., Betuel, A.M., Barcelo-Serra, M., Bierly, G., and Gonser, R.A.  2017. Climatically driven changes in population composition and offspring sex-morph ratio in a polymorphic species. Ecosphere 8(4):e01762. 10.1002/ecs2.1762

Grunst, M.L., Grunst, A.S., Gonser, R.A., and Tuttle, E.M. 2017 Breeding synchrony and extrapair paternity in a species with alternative reproductive strategies.  Journal of Avian Biology: 13 March 2017 DOI: 10.1111/jav.01375

Tuttle, E.M., Bergland, A.O., Korody, M.L., Brewer, M.S., Newhouse, D.J., Minx, P., Stager, M., Betuel, A., Cheviron, Z.A., Warren, W.C., Gonser, R.A., & Balakrishnan, C.N. 2016. Divergence and functional degradation of a sex chromosome-like supergene. Current Biology 26(3):344-350.

McCluskey, E.M., Mockford, S.W., Sands, K., Herman, T.B., Johnson, G., and Gonser, R.A.. 2016 . Population genetic structure of Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) in New York. Journal of Herpetology 50(1):70-76. (doi: 10.1670/14-027)

Rathbun, N.A., Grunst, A.S., Grunst, M.L., Hubbard, J.K., Safran, R.J., Gonser, R.A., & Tuttle, E.M. 2015. Quantitative color variation within and across morphs of the polymorphic White-throated Sparrow. Auk 132: 92-104.

Jamison, A., Tuttle, E., Jensen, R., Bierly, G., & Gonser, R. 2015. Spatial ecology, landscapes, and the geography of vector-borne disease: A multi-disciplinary review. Applied Geography 63: 418-426.

Myers, N., Barad, J., Chao, C.-A., Gonser, R.A., Mikolaj, P., Steding, C., Stuart, G., & Tuttle, E.M. 2015. Wicked problems in genomics: Using interdisciplinary collaboration to promote responsible advocacy in addressing genomic risks. URMIS Insights, February 2015.

Tuttle, E.M., Sebastian, P.J., Posto, A.L., Soini, H.A., Novotny, M.V., & Gonser, R.A. 2014. Variation in Preen Oil Composition Pertaining to Season, Sex, and Genotype In the Polymorphic White-Throated Sparrow. Journal of Chemical Ecology 40(9): 1025-1038; DOI 10.1007/s10886-014-0493-2.

Balakrishnan, C.N., Mukai, M., Gonser, R.A., Wingfield, J.C, London, S.E., Tuttle, E.M., & Clayton, D. 2014. Brain transcriptome sequencing and assembly of three songbird model systems for the study of social behavior. PeerJ 2:e396; DOI 10.7717/peerj.396.

Jensen, R.R., Gonser, R.A., and Joyner, C. 2014. Landscape factors that contribute to animal-vehicle collisions in two northern Utah canyons. Applied Geography 50: 74-79.

Betuel, A.M., Tuttle, E.M., and Gonser, R.A. 2014. Sharp-shinned Hawk predation on a ground-nesting bird, the White-throated Sparrow. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 126(1): 161–165.

Romanov, M.N., Dodgson, J.B., Gonser, R.A., & Tuttle, E.M. 2011. Comparative BAC-based mapping in the white-throated sparrow, a novel behavioral genomics model, using interspecies overgo hybridization. BMC Research Notes 4:211.

Gonser, R. A., Jensen, R., Lulla, V., & McCluskey, E. 2008. Deer-vehicle collisions in Western Indiana. Proceedings of the 21st Biennial Workshop on Aerial Photography, Videography, and High Resolution Digital Imagery for Resource Assessment. View at

Gonser, R. A. & Horn, J.S. 2007. Deer-Vehicle Collisions along the suburban-urban Fringe. In Jensen, R.R., Gatrell, J.D., & McLean, D.D. (eds.): Geospatial technologies in urban environments: policy, practice and pixels. Springer-Verlag. pp. 177-196.

Tuttle, E.M., Jensen, R.R., Formica, V.A., & Gonser, R.A. 2006. Using remote sensing image texture to study habitat use patterns: A case study using the polymorphic white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). Global Ecology and Biogeography 15: 349-357. Download PDF - (163 Kb)

Stutchbury, B.J.M., Pitcher, T.E., Norris, D.R., Tuttle, E.M., & Gonser, R.A. 2005. Does male extra-territory foray effort affect within and extra-pair fertilization success in hooded warblers, Wilsonia citrina? Journal of Avian Biology 36: 471-477. Download PDF - (99 Kb)

Gonser, R.A. 2004. Positive learning experiences: contextual software training workshops with pre-service teachers. Innovators in Education. Indiana State University Press, pp. 61-73. Download PDF (636 Kb)

Formica, V.A., Gonser, R.A., Ramsay, S.M., and Tuttle, E.M. 2004. Spatial dynamics of alternative reproductive strategies: the role of neighbors. Ecology 85(4): 1125-1136. Download PDF (3.04 MB)

Gonser, R.A., Moore, S.W., and Shimer, S.S. 2003. Mock job application and interview assignment that is adaptable for students at all levels of education. The Hoosier Science Teacher. 3: 76-83.

Gonser, R., P. Donnelly, G. Nicholson, et al. 2000. Microsatellite mutations and inferences about human demography. Genetics 154: 1793-1807. Download PDF (391 Kb)

Gonser, R. A. and R. V. Collura. 1996. Waste not, want not: toe-clips as a source of DNA. Journal of Herpetology 30: 445-447. Download PDF (118 Kb)

Gonser, R. A. and L. L. Woolbright. 1995. Homing behavior of the Puerto Rican frog, Eleutherodactylus coqui. Journal of Herpetology 29: 481-484. Download PDF (534 Kb)