Dr. Toby S. Daly-Engel
Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of West Florida
Professional Member since 2013
“Regardless of gender… Effective teamwork and collaboration are important in every aspect of science, but they’re crucial when your work involves large, potentially dangerous animals.”
Tell us a little bit about your research
I’m an evolutionary biologist interested in reproductive strategies, particularly from the standpoint of female fitness. I use a combination of field ecology and genetic techniques to examine these strategies in sharks. Reproductive theory has historically focused on male fitness, so looking at mating systems evolution with an eye towards benefits to females is relatively new. Because a lot of animal behavior having to do with reproduction is difficult to observe directly, particularly in marine animals, I apply genetic tools to these systems to uncover behaviors that we never would have known about otherwise. I also work on general topics in shark biology and conservation. The coolest thing we’ve uncovered is that both male and female sharks mate promiscuously (with multiple partners over the course of the breeding season), which can have implications for genetic diversity. The more we use genetic tools to study mating systems, the more we realize that the traditional paradigm of the promiscuous male/monogamous female is simply not true. Both males AND females are getting around.
Your shark-tagging team is all women. How did that come about?
It just turned out that the most qualified students I’ve been able to recruit to my lab thus far have all been women. I’ve gotten amazing applicants of both sexes, and I didn’t set out to make it one way or the other. But it’s not all that surprising to me that it turned out like that: most of the marine biology grad students in our department are female, and when I was getting my PhD there were more women than men, too. The numbers for women in this area have been in our favor for a while, student-wise, but somehow that hasn’t translated to a high percentage of female faculty. I hope that’s slowly changing. Sharks are kind of a macho animal, and I think it surprises people that there are as many women who want to work with them as there are. I love being able to give students – all students – the opportunity to see and touch an animal that is so amazing and yet so feared and misunderstood.
Do you like working with all women? What advantages do you see?
It’s a big change for me, the labs I was a part of before having my own were male-dominated. Functionally speaking, the tasks are the same, so it’s not all that different from having a mixed crew, but it’s hugely empowering for my female students and for me too. It is important to me that the people in my lab get along well and respect each other, regardless of their gender. Effective teamwork and collaboration are important in every aspect of science, but they’re crucial when your work involves large, potentially dangerous animals.