David O. Conover
Ph.D., 1982, University of Massachusetts
Ecology of fish, fisheries biology
My research interests involve the ecology and evolutionary biology of fishes and fisheries science. I seek to understand the adaptive significance of reproductive, behavioral, physiological, or life history traits in fishes and to extend this knowledge to fundamental problems in resource management. Species currently under investigation include on the U.S. east coast, the Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia); and on the Pacific coast, the the grunion Leuresthes tenuis and the topsmelt Atherinops affinis.
One long-standing interest of mine is to understand how the sex ratio evolves. I have been the first to show that sex determination in fishes is influenced by temperature during larval development. Most of this work has involved the Atlantic silverside but the phenomenon is now known to be widespread. These findings are important not only in designing approaches to sex ratio manipulation in aquaculture, but also to understanding the causes of fluctuations in sex ratio among natural populations. Current work is focused on the molecular basis of TSD and also how estrogens released in sewage effluents alter the local sex ratio in silversides.
Another area of investigation concerns how growth rate is adapted to differences in seasonality that occur with latitude. Work in our lab has shown that along the North American east coast high-latitude fish have a much higher genetic capacity for growth than do low-latitude fish within a given species. This “countergradient variation” (CnGV) in growth rate appears to be widespread and suggests that natural populations with the highest capacity for growth may be found where the growing season is shortest. Rapid growth in the north evolves because size-dependent winter mortality affects small fish more severely than larger fish. The existence of genetic variation in growth also implies that there must be evolutionary trade-offs that select for different growth rates at different latitudes. These tradeoffs involve swimming performance: fast growing fish are more susceptible to predators because their size-specific maximum swimming speed is reduced.
Our current NSF project focuses on the temporal and spatial scales of adaptive divergence in Menidia, with special attention to the interplay between gene flow and natural selection along the steep ecological gradient that occurs along the east coast of North America. We are combining common garden experiments to explore fine–scale spatial genetic variation in growth rate, vertebral number, and TSD with molecular genetic analyses to measure gene flow. The molecular work is done in collaboration with Paul Barber’s lab at UCLA. We are also extending this work to the Pacific coast using common garden experiments to test for genetic variation with latitude in two species that are ecologically similar to and from the same family as Menidia: i.e., top smelt and grunion.
Finally, I am very interested in the long term consequences of harvesting as a selective force that alters the evolution of life history traits in fishes. Because most fisheries selectively harvest the largest and fastest growing members of a population, the long term evolutionary response is likely to be slower individual growth and lower population productivity. We recently completed a 10 year empirical simulation experiment wherein captive populations of silversides were selectively harvested by size in different directions, to assess the rate at which life history characters might evolve under size-selective harvest in the wild.
For more information about my research, please visit the Conover Fish Ecology Lab website at https://www.somas.stonybrook.edu/~conover/ or click on the link above.
Conover, D.O., S. B. Munch and Stephen A. Arnott. 2009. Reversal of evolutionary downsizing caused by selective harvest of large fish. Proc. Royal Soc. London B. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0003.
Susumu, C., S.A. Arnott, and D.O. Conover. 2007. Coevolution of foraging behavior with intrinsic growth rate: risk-taking in naturally and artifically selected growth genotypes of Menidia menidia. Oecologia 154: 237-246.
Conover, D.O. and S.B. Munch. 2007. Faith, evolution, and the burden of proof. Fisheries 32(2): 90-91.
Conover, D.O. 2007. Nets versus nature. Nature (London) 450:179-180.
Conover, D.O., L.M. Clarke, S. B. Munch, and G. N. Wagner. 2006. Spatial and temporal scales of adaptive divergence in marine fishes and the implications for conservation. J. Fish Biol. 69:21-47.
Arnott, S.A., S. Chiba, and D.O. Conover. 2006. Evolution of intrinsic growth rate: metabolic costs drive tradeoffs between growth and swimming performance in Menidia menidia. Evolution 60(6): 1269-1278.
Yamahira, K., T.E. Lankford, and D.O. Conover. 2006. Intra- and Interspecific Latitudinal Variation in Vertebral Number of Menidia spp. (Teleostei: Atherinopsidae). Copeia 2006(3): 431-436.
Walsh, M., S. Munch, S. Chiba and D.O. Conover. 2006. Maladaptive changes in multiple traits caused by fishing: impediments to population recovery. Ecology Letters 9(2): 142-148.
Conover, D. O., S.A. Arnott, M.R. Walsh, and S.B. Munch. 2005. Darwinian fishery science: lessons from the Atlantic silverside. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 62 (4): 730-737.
Conover, D.O. 2004. Temperature-dependent sex determination in fishes. pp. 11-20 In Temperature-dependent sex determination. N. Valenzuela and V. Lance (eds). Smithsonian Institution Press. (194 p).
Munch S.B. and D.O. Conover. 2004. Nonlinear growth cost in Menidia menidia: Theory and empirical evidence. Evolution 58 (3): 661-664.
Conover, D.O., T. Gilmore, and S. B. Munch. 2003. Estimating the relative contribution of spring and summer-spawned cohorts to the Atlantic coast bluefish stock. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 132 (6): 1117-1124.
Munch, S.B. and D.O. Conover. 2003. Rapid growth results in increased susceptibility to predation in Menidia menidia. Evolution 57 (9): 2119-2127
Conover, D.O. and S.B. Munch. 2002. Sustaining fisheries yields over evolutionary time scales. Science 297 (5578): 94-96.
From Four Stony Brook University Professors Elected AAAS 2015 Fellows by Greg Filiano at the Stony Brook Newsroom Michael Bell, David Conover, Michael Frohman, and Ellen Pikitch among those internationally recognized for their work advancing science Stony Brook, N.Y.,...
From DAVID CONOVER TO RECEIVE NATIONAL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MARINE FISHERY BIOLOGY at the Stony Brook University Newsroom STONY BROOK, N.Y., July 2, 2015 – David O. Conover, PhD, Vice President for Research at Stony Brook University and a Professor in the School of...
Study led by scientists from the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University will enable trade-offs to be evaluated in forage fishery and coastal management STONY BROOK, NY, Sept. 7, 2012– A just-published study provides a first-time analysis of...
SBU Officials and Local Dignitaries celebrate groundbreaking of new 15,000 sq. ft. research and teaching facility SOUTHAMPTON, NY, June 8, 2012 – The Southampton Campus of Stony Brook University is set to begin construction on a new state-of-the-art Marine Sciences...
SoMAS Dean Dr. David O. Conover will retain faculty appointment at Stony Brook University STONY BROOK, NY, April 28, 2010 – Dr. David O. Conover, Dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University, has accepted a position as the...
SoMAS Dean David Conover has been appointed Director of the Division of Ocean Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Conover will step down as Dean and begin his new position effective July 2010 but will remain a faculty member with SoMAS during his...
Stony Brook University Announces Formal Partnerships With Atlantis Marine World And The Riverhead Foundation
SBU’s SoMAS joins ranks of major universities collaborating with regional aquariums and preservation foundations to advance marine research and education STONY BROOK, N.Y., August 25, 2009 -- Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS,)...
Jack Macrae and Paula Cooper Donate Forge River Property In Support of SBU School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
Gift will be used to further understanding of the Forge River and other systems like it in the region and around the world STONY BROOK, N.Y., March 24, 2009 -- Stony Brook University today announced that Jack Macrae and Paula Cooper have donated a four-acre...
In an intriguing 21st century example of Darwinism, researchers demonstrate that fish will again grow to larger sizes and produce more young when size-selective fishing is eased STONY BROOK, NY, March 3, 2009 – “Undesirable” evolution in fish – which makes their...
Sunday, December 21, the Stony Brook University community convened for a ceremony to confer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees for Summer 2008 and Fall 2008/Winter 2009 graduates. The sports complex arena was filled with graduates’ friends and families who...