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Faculty, Biological Sciences, Lehigh University

Amber Rice, Ph.D.

Amber Rice, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Research Interest:
Evolutionary Biology

Iacocca Hall
111 Research Drive, D216
Bethlehem, PA 18015


email Dr. Rice



We are broadly interested in evolution, with a focus on understanding the evolutionary and ecological mechanisms involved in speciation. We employ an integrative approach, combining field and lab work to ask research questions about the speciation process, from early to late stages. For more details about Dr. Rice's lab and her research, please click here for her lab research page.

Briefly, we are pursuing two main avenues of research:

Amber Rice, Ph.D.Hybridization and its consequences

Hybridization--when individuals from different species mate and produce offspring--has a wide variety of potential outcomes, which can both positively and negatively affect biodiversity. It can even promote adaptation to new environments through the transfer of genetic variation between species ('adaptive introgression'). To better understand the conditions affecting the likelihood of these different outcomes, we are interested in the ecological and evolutionary factors influencing the probability of hybridization, as well as the genetic and fitness consequences of hybridization. We use a combination of ecological field research, ecological niche modeling, and population genetics/genomics to investigate hybridization and its consequences in our model system, hybridizing black-capped and Carolina chickadees (Poecile atricapillus and P. carolinensis, respectively).

Photo Caption: To study hybridization in black-capped and Carolina chickadees, we have established artificial nesting snags in several nearby forests. We can monitor the breeding success of individuals, collect blood samples, and measure a variety of traits. Photo credit: Christa Neu / Lehigh University


Character displacement as an initiator of speciation

Amber Rice, Ph.D.When closely related species co-occur, they may compete for resources or interfere in each others' reproduction. If this competition or reproductive interference results in reduced fitness, then selection is expected to favor individuals of each species with traits that reduce the likelihood of these interactions. Over time, such selection leads to divergence between the species in such traits, a process called 'character displacement.' Character displacement will only happen where the species co-occur, however. Recently, it has been hypothesized that reproductive isolation can result between populations of one species that have and have not undergone character displacement. Our results support this hypothesis in spadefoot toads, and show that conspecific populations that have and have not undergone character displacement exhibit genetic divergence and reduced gene flow. Ongoing analyses will evaluate the genomic extent of divergence between populations in these two selective environments.

Photo Caption: Spadefoot toads (Spea multiplicata) have undergone ecological and reproductive character displacement where they co-occur with a congener, S. bombifrons. As a result, S. multiplicata populations in sympatry and in allopatry with S. bombifrons have evolved reproductive isolation and exhibit reduced gene flow.

Amber Rice's citations

My ResearchGate profile

Adobe Reader requiredMcQuillan, M. A. and Rice, A. M. 2015. Differential effects of climate and species interactions on range limits at a hybrid zone: Potential direct and indirect impacts of climate change. Ecology and Evolution, Early View. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1774.

Adobe Reader requiredKawakami, T., Backström, N., Burri, R., Husby, A., Olason, P., Rice, A. M., Ålund, M., Qvarnström, A., Ellegren, H. 2014. Estimation of linkage disequilibrium and interspecific gene flow in Ficedula flycatchers by a newly developed 50k single-nucleotide polymorphism array. Molecular Ecology Resources 14: 1248-1260.

Adobe Reader requiredPfennig, K. S. and Rice, A. M. 2014. Reinforcement generates reproductive isolation between neighbouring conspecific populations of spadefoot toads. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281: 20140949. (featured on cover)

Adobe Reader requiredRice, A. M. 2013. The genetics of speciation: Considering early-acting isolation, hybrid evolution, and epigenetic mechanisms. Current Zoology 59: 654-657. (invited editorial)

Adobe Reader requiredRice, A. M., Vallin, N., Kulma, K., Arntsen, H., Husby, A., Tobler, M., and Qvarnström, A. 2013. Optimizing the trade-off between offspring number and quality in unpredictable environments: Testing the role of differential androgen transfer to collared flycatcher eggs. Hormones and Behavior 63: 813-822.

Adobe Reader requiredÅlund, M., Immler, S., Rice, A. M., Qvarnström, A. 2013. Low fertility of wild hybrid male flycatchers despite recent divergence. Biology Letters 9: 20130169.

Adobe Reader requiredAbbott, R., Alback, D., Ansell, S., Arntzen, J. W., Baird, S. J. E., Bierne, N. et al. 2013. Hybridization and speciation. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 26: 229-246.

Adobe Reader requiredVallin, N., Rice, A. M., Arntsen, H., Kulma, K., Qvarnström, A. 2012. Combined effects of interspecific competition and hybridization impede local coexistence of Ficedula flycatchers. Evolutionary Ecology 26: 927-942.

Adobe Reader requiredVallin, N., Rice, A. M., Bailey, R. I., Husby, A., Qvarnström, A. 2012. Positive feedback between ecological and reproductive character displacement in a young avian hybrid zone. Evolution 66: 1167-1169.

Adobe Reader requiredRice, A. M., Rudh, A., Ellegren, H., and Qvarnström, A. 2011. A guide to the genomics of ecological speciation in natural animal populations. Ecology Letters 14: 9-18.

Adobe Reader requiredQvarnström, A., Rice, A. M., and Ellegren, H. 2010. Speciation in Ficedula flycatchers. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B 365: 1841-1852.

Adobe Reader requiredRice, A. M. and Pfennig, D. W. 2010. Does character displacement initiate speciation? Evidence of reduced gene flow between populations experiencing divergent selection. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 23: 854-865.

Adobe Reader requiredRice, A. M., Leichty, A. R., and Pfennig, D. W. 2009. Parallel evolution and ecological selection: Replicated character displacement in spadefoot toads. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 276: 4189-4196.

Adobe Reader requiredRice, A. M., Pearse, D. E., Becker, T., Newman, R. A., Lebonville, C., Harper, G. R., and Pfennig, K. S. 2008. Development and characterization of nine polymorphic microsatellite markers for Mexican spadefoot toads (Spea multiplicata) with cross amplification in Plains spadefoot toads (S. bombifrons). Molecular Ecology Resources 8: 1386-1389.

Adobe Reader requiredRice, A. M. and Pfennig, D. W. 2008. An analysis of range expansion in two species undergoing character displacement: Why might invaders generally “win” during character displacement? Journal of Evolutionary Biology 21: 696-704.

Adobe Reader requiredPfennig, D. W. and Rice, A. M. 2007. An experimental test of character displacement’s role in promoting postmating isolation between conspecific populations in contrasting competitive environments. Evolution 61: 2433-2443.

Adobe Reader requiredPfennig, D. W., Rice, A. M., and Martin, R. A. 2007. Field and experimental evidence for competition’s role in phenotypic divergence. Evolution 61: 257-271.

Adobe Reader requiredRice, A. M. and Pfennig, D. W. 2007. Character displacement: in situ evolution of novel phenotypes or sorting of pre-existing variation? Journal of Evolutionary Biology 20: 448-459.

Adobe Reader requiredPfennig, D. W., Rice, A. M., and Martin, R. A. 2006. Ecological opportunity and phenotypic plasticity interact to promote character displacement and species coexistence. Ecology 87: 769-779.

Adobe Reader requiredMarko, P. B., Lee, S. C., Rice, A. M., Gramling, J. M., Fitzhenry, T. M., McAlister, J. S., Harper, G. R., and Moran, A. L. 2004. Mislabelling of a depleted reef fish. Nature 430: 309-310.

Adobe Reader requiredConner, J. K., Rice, A. M., Stewart, C., Morgan, M. T. 2003. Patterns and mechanisms of selection on a family-diagnostic trait: evidence from experimental manipulation and lifetime fitness gradients. Evolution 57: 480-486.

Amber Rice, Ph.D.
Biological Sciences
111 Research Drive
Bethlehem, PA 18015
Phone: 610-758-3680
Fax: 610-758-4004