Kari Benson, PhD

Professor of Biology and Environmental Science


Degrees and Certifications

  • BS, Biology, Muhlenberg College, 1988
  • MS, Biology, University of Mississippi, 1992
  • PhD, Biology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1998


I am particularly interested in aquatic systems and have worked in marine systems in Jamaica, San Salvador (Bahamas), Mexico, Hawaii, North Carolina, Virginia, and New England. I have also explored numerous freshwater lakes, streams, and rivers locally in Virginia and elsewhere, including: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oaxaca (Mexico), and Veracruz (Mexico).

My research interests are diverse. My master’s work addressed larval fish ecology in southeastern floodplains. More recently, I have focused on the behavioral ecology of decision-making relative to foraging and mating decisions. For research subjects, I have studied many taxa including crickets, birds, fishes, and most recently, spiders.

Teaching Areas

  • Introductory Biology (majors and non-majors)
  • Marine Biology
  • Coral Reef Biology
  • Animal Behavior
  • Ecology
  • Evolution

Professional Interests/Research

My current research incorporates my interests in aquatic organisms and reproductive decisions, and is focused on two groups:

I have a laboratory population of Gambusia holbrooki, the eastern mosquitofish. This fish is native to the Northeastern United States and belongs to the livebearing family, Poeciliidae. Females of this species have a trait, the gravidity spot, that changes with reproductive status. I am testing some components of the adaptive value (the costs and benefits) of receptivity signaling. As an extension of some of my dissertation work on male-male competition in poeciliid fishes, I am examining the behavior of Gambusia manni, the Bahamian mosquitofish. These fishes, though similar to the eastern mosquitofish, use much more extreme (hypersaline) habitats, and are known to have a subocular bar, which is purported to be an aggressive signal.

I am also studying reproductive behavior in Pisaurid spiders. There are five species of interest (all of the genusDolomedes) that occur at our field site (Claytor Nature Study Center). With an undergraduate collaborator, I have demonstrated that males of D. scriptus can discern female mating status from silk. I am continuing to collaborate with a variety of other researchers on different facets of mating behavior and signaling in this genus.

Selected examples of my work (asterisks indicate undergraduate contributors):

  • Benson, K. and R. Souter. 2013. Reflections on the tapetum lucidum and eyshine in Lycosid spiders. Journal of Arachnology 41:43-52.
  • Benson, K. 2010. Avoiding the Blank Screen Blues. The Teaching Professor Newsletter, November
  • Roach, M.* and K. Benson. 2008. Male response to female mating status in Dolomedes scriptus. American Arachnological Society, Berkeley CA
  • Benson, K. E. 2007. Enhanced female brood patch size stimulates male courtship in Xiphophorus helleri. Copeia 2007:212-217. pdf
  • Benson, K. E. and A. L. Basolo. 2006. The role of the sword in male-male competition in the green swordtail, Xiphophorus helleri. Animal Behaviour 71:121-134. pdf
  • Benson, K. E. 2004. My brother’s keeper: A case study in evolutionary biology and animal behavior. Journal of College Science Teaching. 34(2)40-45.

Professional Associations and Affiliations

  • American Arachnological Society
  • Animal Behavior Society
  • International Society for Behavioral Ecology
  • Association of Biology Laboratory Educators

You can also visit my personal web page: http://benson-k.web.lynchburg.edu/