Maria Akopyan

Maria in the lab

Maria in the lab



B.S. Biology 2013

University of California, Los Angeles

Click here to see my crowd-funding page

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Master’s Projects:

Male and female courtship signals constitute local dialects in red-eyed treefrogs (Manuscript in review)

Female courtship behavior and male mate choice has been widely overlooked as an important component of anuran mating systems.  For this study, we discover and quantify female courtship behavior in divergent populations of the red-eyed treefrog, a species previously characterized by a female-choice mating system. We found population-level differences in both male and female courtship behaviors, and that female courtship signals encoded less population-specific information than did male signals. We found that variation in female behavior was not explained by geographic or genetic distance, but that females preferred local males. Combined, our results indicate that evolved behavioral differences could have consequences for premating reproductive isolation. The use of visual signaling in red-eyed treefrogs bolsters the case for bidirectional choice where males also participate in active choice. Our finding that female courtship behavior evolves among populations such that males could play a role as signal receivers in a mutual mate choice scenario represents a paradigm shift in anuran mating systems that are currently characterized as female-choice.

Reproductive isolation across clinal populations of a Neotropical treefrog inferred from genomic and phenotypic data

The Neotropical red-eyed treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas) exhibits substantial phenotypic variation among regions, including differences in color pattern, body size and male advertisement calls. Genetic analyses using microsatellites have shown that these clinal populations are not completely isolated; rather, they have differentiated despite gene flow, indicating that evolutionary forces (e.g. drift and selection) are driving divergence. For this study, I am exploring genomic and phenotypic patterns of diversity in clinal populations of the red-eyed treefrog to understand how barriers to reproduction are accumulating among these populations. The objectives are to (1) measure phenotypic variation across clinal population of the red-eyed treefrog (flank pattern, leg color), (2) scan large portions of the red-eyed treefrog genome, specifically focusing on naturally admixed clinal populations, and (3) examine the relationship between genetic and phenotypic diversification.

2014-2016 Funding Sources (Total Awarded = $47,021):

  • Associated Students Scholarship in Honor of Jolene Koester, $8000
  • CSUN Outstanding Promise in Research in Science and Mathematics, $5000
  • California Sally Cassanova Pre-Doctoral Program, $3295
  • CSUN Graduate Equity Program, $4000
  • CSUN Association of Retired Faculty Memorial Award, $2000
  • Dr. Bob Luszczak, DDS Graduate Scholarship in Biology, $1000
  • Crowdfunding for Scientific Research,, $3800
  • CSUN Graduate Thesis Support Grant, $1000
  • CSUN Graduate Studies Full Tuition Waiver, $13,476
  • Bob and Doris Tracy Memorial Scholarship, $1000
  • Leslie and Terry Cutler Scholarship Endowment, College of Science and Math, $1000


Akopyan, M., & J.M. Robertson. Characterizing reproductive isolation across clinal populations of the red-eyed treefrog using population genomics. Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists & Herpetologists, Poster Presentation, July 2016.

Akopyan, M., K. Kaiser, & J.M. Robertson Interactive courtship behavior varies geographically in divergent populations of a Neotropical frog. Evolution, Oral Presentation, June 2016.

Akopyan, M., K. Kaiser, N. Savant, C. Owen, A.Vega, S.R. Dudgeon, & J.M. Robertson. Where You’re From and How You Spit Game: Geographic Variation in Mating Signals of Red-eyed Treefrogs, CSUN Student Research & Creative Works Symposium, Oral Presentation, February 2016.

Akopyan, M., C. Owen & N. Savant, A.Vega & S.R. Dudgeon, K. Kaiser & J.M. Robertson. Where You’re From and How You Spit Game: Geographic Variation in Mating Signals of Red-eyed Treefrogs. SICB Southwestern Organismal Biology Meeting, Oral Presentation, October 2015.

Akopyan, M., C. Owen & N. Savant, A.Vega & S.R. Dudgeon, K. Kaiser & J.M. Robertson. How to Mate a Model in 10 minutes: Evolution of Reproductive Isolation in a Tropical Frog. CSUN Sigma Xi Symposium, Oral Presentation, May 2015.

Akopyan, M., C.G. Ho, C.J. Storch. Foraging behavior of nocturnal frugivores in relation to anthropogenic light. UCLA Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Research Symposium, Undergraduate Poster, May 2013.