Eliot Miller


While walking between plots along the side of the Rio Shiripuno, in the Amazon of eastern Ecuador, I stopped to admire the light striking these dainty mushrooms. It seemed so improbable that in the midst of this big, dark rainforest, something so unlikely as a pink mushroom could sprout from the top of a leaf, and that a shaft of light would pierce the canopy to strike the mushrooms just as I passed them. Many ecologists, including myself, focus on large, charismatic organisms—birds, mammals, even many insects could fall into that bin—however, a vast, important, and hugely underappreciated ecology governs our soils and the ecosystems that spring from them. A pink mushroom in a shaft of light along a trail in the Amazon is a beautiful reminder of this. 

My research focuses on lekking in birds. Lekking is when males of a given species congregate to display for females. Females visit the lek and select a male to mate with. This is almost the only interaction between the sexes, and he contributes no further to raising the young. Moreover, in general, only one or a very few males successfully garner all the mating opportunities. Why do these odd mating systems develop? Answering this question is the goal of my research.

Portraits Of Research 2009