Jennifer Fenner, Ph.D.


Broadly, I am interested in understanding how the contributions from genetic and environmental interactions shape and generate biological variation. I am interested in questions about how the balance between plasticity and robustness have shaped differences in embryonic development during the evolutionary process.  During my PhD I Incorporated an integrative Eco Evo Devo approach to investigate the role of genetic and environmental interactions on the generation of butterfly wing color pattern variation both within and between species in the Dogface butterfly. My research spanned a variety of techniques from classical rearing experiments to transcriptomics and CRISPR/cas9.


My background has focused mainly on evolution and ecology, but during my PhD I was most passionate about the functional aspects of my studies. I joined the Range lab in order to gain both the skills and perspective of a developmental biologist and am excited to strengthen the Devo side of my Evo Devo studies. I began my work in the Range lab working on a project investigating how non-canonical AP WNT signaling is necessary for early DV TGF-beta signaling during embryonic axial patterning in the sea urchin. Additionally, I am working on a comparison study characterizing the integrated WNT signaling mechanism observed in the sea urchins in the hemichordate saccoglossus kowalevskii. I also have a small project funded by Texas Ecolabs to study embryonic timing across Lepidoptera species examining differences in the rate of syncytial to cellular blastoderm formation.


My Postdoc project that I will take with me in the future focuses on investigating the molecular mechanisms contributing to the control of embryonic developmental rate. Using comparisons between 2 temperate urchins and an Antarctic urchin I aim to uncover genomic mechanisms not only responsible for intraspecies variation in embryonic developmental rate, but also more global mechanisms that control developmental timing in general. This postdoctoral research will allow me to continue to investigate the fundamental questions about how GxE interactions produce variation, but through a development first perspective using different systems from my PhD, both in terms of phenotypes (from animal coloration to developmental timing) and organisms (from butterflies to echinoderms).


Catching butterflies summer of 2022

Presenting at Developmental Biology of the sea urchin and other marine invertebrates meeting 2022

My daughter Rose doing "fun science" (she says her mom does "boring science") 


  1. Rodriguez-Caro, F., Fenner, J., Bhardwaj, S., Cole, J., Benson, C., Colombara, A. M., ... & Counterman, B. A. (2021). "Novel doublesex duplication associated with sexually dimorphic development of dogface butterfly wings." Molecular biology and evolution, 38(11), 5021-5033.

  2. Ka, C., Gautam, S., Marshall, S. R., Tice, L. P., Martinez-Bartolome, M., Fenner, J. L., & Range, R. C. (2021). "Receptor Tyrosine Kinases ror1/2 and ryk Are Co-expressed with Multiple Wnt Signaling Components During Early Development of Sea Urchin Embryos." The Biological Bulletin, 241(2), 140-157.

  3. Fenner J, Benson C, Rodriguez F, Ren A, Papa R, Hoffman F, Range RC, Counterman BA. “Wnt genes in wing pattern development of Coliadinae butterflies”. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution (2020). 

  4. EA Shelby, J Fenner, BA Counterman. "Impact of Artificial Diet on Development and Coloration in Zerene Cesonia" (2020). The Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 74 (2), 65-72.

  5. Concha, C., Wallbank, R. W., Hanly, J. J., Fenner, J., Livraghi, L., Rivera, E. S., ... & Morrison, C. (2019). Interplay between developmental flexibility and determinism in the evolution of mimetic Heliconius wing patterns. Current Biology, 29(23), 3996-4009.

  6. Rodriguez-Caro, L., Fenner, J., Benson, C., Van Belleghem, S. M., & Counterman, B. A. (2020). Genome assembly of the dogface butterfly Zerene cesonia. Genome biology and evolution, 12(1), 3580-3585.

  7. Fenner, J. (2019). How the Dogface got its color: How genetics and the environment influence color variation within and between species in the Zerene butterfly (Doctoral dissertation, Biological Sciences).

  8. Fenner, J., Rodriguez-Caro, L., & Counterman, B. (2019). Plasticity and divergence in ultraviolet reflecting structures on Dogface butterfly wings. Arthropod structure & development, 51, 14-22.

  9. Fenner, J., Schartel, T., & Counterman, B. (2018). Lessons from Butterflies of the Black Belt Prairie: The Southern Dogface as an Indicator of Prairie Remnants. Transactions of the American Entomological Society, 144(2), 295-308.

  10. Fenner, J., Seltzer, J., Peyton, S., Sullivan, H., Tolson, P., Walsh, R. P., ... & Counterman, B. A. (2017). Demographic variation of Wolbachia infection in the endangered Mitchell’s Satyr butterfly. Insects, 8(2), 50.