Lauren Gawel

Mentor: Dr. Lisa Taylor
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
"I am a pre-veterinary student and research is important for my future, but I also have a strong personal interest in research, especially relating to animal behavior. I want to become a zoo veterinarian and travel in order to carry out behavioral research on wildlife to help with understanding and conservation. I have always had a desire to observe wildlife and learn about why animals do what they do. I have done a couple of my own behavioral studies on neurosis and stereotypical behavior in lemurs and in large cats while in high school, and I hope to learn how to better carry out scientific research projects while at UF."


Animal Science



Research Interests

  • Animal behavior
  • Veterinary medicine
  • Evolution/Natural Selection

Academic Awards

  • Second Marine Division Association Scholarship 2014-2015
  • Rising Star category of Soroptimist International of Stuart’s Women of Distinction Award - 2014
  • CALS 2014-2015 Rural Rehabilitation Corporation Scholarship
  • CALS Deans's List for Spring 2015 Semester


  • Servant Leadership Institute
  • Exotic Animal Club
  • Society for Conservation Biology


  • UF Small Animal Hospital
  • Intern at West Palm Beach Zoo
  • Treasure Coast Wildlife Center

Hobbies and Interests

  • Theatre
  • Dancing
  • Fencing
  • Traveling

Research Description

Can teaching prey color preferences alter choice of mate in Habronattus brunneus?
Researchers have studied what could drive the evolution of colorful traits in males of many species for over one hundred years, yet many patterns are still very puzzling, especially frequent fluctuations in color within populations. Therefore, this project deals with the spider Habronattus brunneus. The male ornamentation in the genus Habronattus varies widely. Male Habronattus pyrrithrix, located in Arizona, have bright red faces, while the male Habronattus brunneus, located in Florida, have gray faces. The Habronattus females of both are cannibalistic. The hypothesis is that an individual female spider’s recent experience and interactions with colorful food will shape her responses to male color or ornamentation. There is evidence that sexual selection drives the evolution of male ornamentation and that female mating preferences can arise from innate preferences in other areas – this is called a sensory trap. These sensory traps are utilized by males in other species such as guppies and water mites and could also apply to spiders. There is also evolution being uncovered that sexual preference can be flexible or ‘imprinted.’ Therefore, there could be ‘spill-over’ from a color preference that was learned for a different behavior into the mating area. As far as we are aware there have been no other studies looking into whether mate preferences could be established or influenced due to learned preferences in the area of foraging or hunting. This is very possible however as animals such as spiders often do have to learn to avoid aposematic colors due to toxicity and if this spilled over to mate selection it could cause very quick evolution in male coloration within a population. This could be caused by changes in the influx of invasive species or a rise or drop in the population of aposematic species. The Habronottus brunneus will be collected, tested for initial prey color preference, fed either palatable or non-palatable red or black prey, tested for prey color preference again, and then a mate choice experiment will be run. A female will be offered a choice between a male with a black face and a male with a face painted red with non-harmful make-up, in order to determine whether or not there is a statistically significant correlation between prey color preference and mate choice based on facial coloration.