Murray Itzkowitz, Ph.D.


Official Claimer:

As an evolutionary biologist and a scholar committed to the scientific method, I strongly reject the ideas of Intelligent Design, Irreducible Complexity, and any other form of creationism as scientific explanations for the origin and adaptations of biological systems. My views are completely consistent with all but one of my colleagues in this department and with the overwhelming majority of biologists…everywhere.

Murray Itzkowitz, Ph.D.

Professor and Chair · Dept. of Biological Sciences
111 Research Drive · Bethlehem, PA 18015

610-758-3680 · E-mail


Currently, my research focuses on several projects that explore different theoretical issues. My primary research area consists largely of laboratory studies on the monogamous convict cichlid fish (Archocentrus nigrofasciatus) and field studies on several species of pupfish (Cyprinodon) and beaugregory damselfish (Stegastes leucostictus).

convict cichlids & fry
A pair of convict cichlids and fry
Nick Santangelo, former graduate student, observingconvict cichlids in a Costa Rican stream

Students in my lab are involved in a variety of projects using the convict cichlid and these include fight tactics, mate choice, pair formation, and the functions of courtship. I continue to emphasize the parental division of roles. I am particularly interested in the causation of sex-typical parental roles (e.g., females remain with the offspring while males defend the territory), especially when both parents are both able to perform the same roles. I am also examining the initiation and the resolution of role disagreements.

I have begun a long term project on the mating strategies of Texas pupfish (Cyprinodon elegans and C. bovinus). Thus far we have uncovered three male mating tactics and we are in the process of linking the appearance of these tactics to their costs and benefits. We are also examining female pupfish behavior. Females of these species seem to mate randomly and promiscuously, although we have evidence that females of some species do possess an inherent mate preference. We are now attempting to describe this promiscuity, determine the possible benefits derived from it, and relate it to the multiple male tactics.

Murray Itzkowitz, Ph.D. Murray Itzkowitz, Ph.D.
Male Cyprinodon bovinus Two males fighting over a female
(female is on the left side of upper male)
Murray Itzkowitz, Ph.D. Murray Itzkowitz, Ph.D.
Male and female about to spawn Past graduate student, Jenny Gumm, observing Cyprinodon bovinus

My research program on the coral reef beaugregory damselfish (Stegastes leucostictus) has focused on the effects of breeding site quality on both courtship and defense decisions. I have recently restarted my research at the Discovery Bay Marine laboratory where I am examining how males deal with mistakes in predicting their future reproductive success.

Murray Itzkowitz, Ph.D. Murray Itzkowitz, Ph.D. Murray Itzkowitz, Ph.D.
Current graduate student, Andrew Black (left), and former graduate student, Joe Leese, after a "relaxing" swim in Barbados. Placing a bottled female
beaugregory damselfish near a male
A beaugregory male with an artificial
breeding site courting a bottled female


Murray Itzkowitz, Ph.D.
Current graduate student, Kimberly Little, and former graduate student, Matt Draud at the Bellairs Research Institute in Barbados

Along with Amber Rice, assistant professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University, and Paul Samollow from Texas A&M University, Matthew Draud (department of biology at Long Island University, NY), I have been looking at the population genetics and behavioral ecology of the common damselfish in Barbados and Jamaica.



Some recent publications

Convict Cichlids:

Gagliardi-Seeley, J., Leese, J., Santangelo, N. & Itzkowitz, M. 2009. Female Convict Cichlids (Archocentrus nigrofasciatum) based their mate choice on both malesize and fighting ability. Journal of Ethology. 27:249-254

Snekser, J. & Itzkowitz, M. 2009.Sex differences in offspring retrieval behavior in the convict cichlid. Ethology. 115: 457–464.

Leese, J, Wilson, H., Ganim, A., & Itzkowitz, M. 2010. Effects of reversed size-assortative mating on spawning success in the monogamous convict cichlid, Amatitlania nigrofasciatus. Ethology, Ecology, & Evolution. 22: 95–100.

Snekser, J., Santangelo, N., Nyby, J. & Itzkowitz. M. 2011. Sex differences in biparental care as offspring develop: a field study of convict cichlids (Amatitlania siquia). Environmental Biology of Fishes. 91: 15-25.

VanBreukelen, N. A. & Itzkowitz, M. 2011. Mate removal leads to increase parental defence in free-ranging convict cichlids. Animal Behaviour. 82: 1023-1026.


Gumm, J., Snekser, J. & Itzkowitz, M. 2008. Conservation and conflict between endangered desert fishes. Biology Letters Royal Society 4:655-658.

Gumm, J., Snekser, J., Leese, J. M., Little, K.,Leese, J.,Imhoff, V.E.,Westrick, B. & Itzkowitz, M. 2011. Management of interactions between endangered species using habitat restoration. Biological Conservation. 144:2171-2176

Beaugregory Damselfish:

Snekser, J., Leese, J., Gamin, A., & Itzkowitz, M. 2009. Aggression and courtship on different quality territories: Correlated behaviors, but not a syndrome. Behavioral Ecology. 209:124-130.

Leese, J., Snekser, J., Ganim, A. & Itzkowitz, M.2009. Assessment and decision making in a Caribbean damselfish: nest site quality influences prioritization of courtship and brood defense. Biology Letters Royal Society. 5:188-190.

Leese, J., Snekser, J. & Itzkowitz, M. 2010. Interactions of natural and sexual selection: damselfish prioritize brood defense with male-male competition or courtship. Behaviour. 147:37 – 52.

Gumm, J.,van Breukelen, N. A., Draud, M & Itzkowitz, M. 2010. Interactions between inter- and Intrasexual selection in the beaugregory damselfish Stegastes leucostictus). Ethology Ecology and Evolution. 22:133-142.


Leiser, J., Little, K., & Itzkowitz, M. 2010. Mate sampling in a natural population of Pecos gambusia, Gambusia nobilis. Western North American Naturalist. 70:283-289



Desert flowers for your amusement