Chiton on a beach in the US Virgin Islands. Photo by DJ Eernisse
March 11, 2024

A team of scientists — led by Rebecca Varney at UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology (EEMB) — discovered that chiton mollusks sport the most recently evolved eyes with a lens. What’s more, the two kinds of eyes found in this group arose in four separate events. The researchers lay out what factors led to this peculiar arrangement in a paper published in the journal Science

November 29, 2023

From the NYT, "In 2017, two evolutionary biologists snorkeling off Panama’s coast made a dazzling discovery. Night was falling over the shallow waters of Bocas del Toro, and James Morin, an emeritus professor at Cornell University, flicked on his underwater flashlight to catch a glimpse of the seabed. Seemingly in answer, hundreds of tiny blue lights sparked to life, rippling out in waves."

Long exposure photo of luminous underwater signals look like a fantasy land
August 26, 2022

The work of our team on the evolution of bioluminescent ostracods was featured in Science, complete with great diagrams, photos, and videos.

April 22, 2022

Emily Lau's research on bioluminescence earned her a $20,000 Scholar Award from the P.E.O. Sisterhood. The award recognizes women doctoral students for their academic achievements and potential for positive impact on society. Lau was sponsored by Chapter OK of Santa Barbara.

April 17, 2019

Two scientists at UC Santa Barbara whose work has contributed in significant ways to our understanding of nature and of our place in it have been recognized by the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. 

Brain scientist Miguel Eckstein(link is external) and evolutionary biologist Todd Oakley(link is external) are recipients of 2019 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowships. The prestigious awards are given to those whose work adds “to the educational, literary, artistic, and scientific power of this country, and also to provide for the cause of better international understanding.” 

January 31, 2019

To create their entrancing light displays, cypridinid ostracods expel a bit of mucus injected with an enzyme and a reactant, and then swim away from the glowing orb to repeat the act again. The result is a trail of fading ellipses, or will-o’-the-wisps hanging in the water column. And the length of each of these pulses is a major component of the courtship display. Some are quick like an old-fashioned flashbulb, said Hensley, while others linger in the water.

Graphical Abstract
July 19, 2018

Eyes detect light and convert it into electrochemical impulses in neurons. The process is the precursor to vision in complex beings. Yet some simple organisms, such as jellyfish (cnidarians), also have many types of eyes that use the same photoreceptive proteins, called opsins, as animals like flies and humans.

June 30, 2016

When you’re a firefly, finding “the one” can change the world.


A new study by UCSB evolutionary biologistsTodd Oakley and Emily Ellis demonstrates that for fireflies, octopuses and other animals that choose mates via bioluminescent courtship, sexual selection increases the number of species — thereby impacting global diversity. Their results appear in the journal Current Biology.

June 29, 2015

The octopus has a unique ability. It can change the color, pattern and even texture of its skin not only for purposes of camouflage but also as a means of communication. The most intelligent, most mobile and largest of all mollusks, these cephalopods use their almost humanlike eyes to send signals to pigmented organs in their skin called chromatophores, which expand and contract to alter their appearance.

January 16, 2015

Research Mentorship Program

Last summer, both Andrew Swafford and Emily Ellis mentored high school students in the Research Mentorship Program.