Dr. Paul J. Watson

My research focuses on the evolution of social and sexual behavior in taxa ranging from arthropods to humans. My interests center on the evolutionary adaptiveness of contingent responses of animal and human minds to challenges associated with sexual reproduction and social living. My nearly continuous studies of the sexual selection system of the sierra dome spider, Neriene (Linyphia) litigiosa (Linyphiidae), are now in their 40th year. These studies are unique in that they integrate field and lab work, include experimental manipulations of factors affecting sexual decision-making in nature, consider the effect of a probable sexually transmited

disease on the structure of the mating system as well as individual variation in male and female mating decisions, and address seldom examined issues of how processes of male-male competition and female choice co-evolve and interact to form a "whole" mating system. See: McCullough et al. 2016 for a clear discussion of the latter issue. I involve graduate and advanced undergraduate students in all my research, and spend a good deal of time advising students on their own projects.

Current Positions



Doctoral Thesis: The Adaptive Functions of Sequential Polyandry in the Spider Linyphia litigiosa (Linyphiidae).

(These days, Linyphia litigiosa = Neriene litigiosa).

 Bachelor 's Thesis: Freezing Low Temperature Tolerance in the Cactus Opuntia fragilis (Cactaceae).

Post-Doctoral Experience 

  • NATO-NSF Fellow, 1989-1991. Sexual selection and disease in the spider Neriene (=Linyphia) litigiosa. Sexual selection and disease research; environmental microbiological training. (16 months). University of Oxford, UK. Department of ZoologyWilliam D. Hamilton sponsor; NERC Institute of Virology and Environmental Microbiology, D.H.L. Bishop and P. Nuttall co-sponsors.

  • NSF Postdoctoral Research Associate, 1988-1989. Research on same topic as NATO fellowship. Funds provided as supplement to research grant of R. Thornhill and D. Ligon, based on an independent proposal by Watson (12 months). University of New Mexico, Biology Department, R. Thornhill and O. Baca advisors.


  • Dr. Jacek Radwan ( Jagiellonian University , Krakow, Poland ) has been awarded a 9 month Fullbright Fellowship (9 mos, from September 2000) to collaborate with me in a study of sexual selection in acarid mites. Radwan has been studying these mites since 1990. In several species of this family, two male morphs co-occur within the same populations: fighter males have a thickened and sharply terminated third pair of legs, whereas scramblers have unmodified legs. Modified legs are used during fights to stab (often mortally) other males. A male's morph is determined in different ways (genetically or environmentally) in different species, and thus this system provides a unique opportunity to identify ecological factors favoring male dimorphism against monomorphism and those favoring environmental morph determination against genetic. The study will have two main objectives: 1. To determine if individuals possessing phenotypes associated with lower fitness (scramblers) carry more deleterious mutations. 2. To determine whether superior metabolic competence and lower fluctuating asymmetry are associated with low mutational load and to resolve which of these measures is a better candidate for a general fitness index.

  • Hypoxia and larval care in the bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis (12 mos, from May 1996), Montana's NSF EPSCoR program. With Drs. P. Kukuk and D.L. Kilgore

  • Courtship Energetics and the Heritability of Metabolic Competence (24 mos, from July 1994-96), National Science Foundation. Behavioral and respirometric research on the sierra dome spider Linyphia litigiosa.

  • REU supplement to support undergraduate summer research relating rates of aging to sexual competitiveness in the sierra dome spider (6 mos), NSF.


I am looking for a student or postdoctoral "heir" to the sierra dome spider system. It deserves continued scientific attention, far more than I can supply. I'll teach you what I know, and show you how to work with 

this creature so you'll hit the ground running! I'll meet you in the field at Flathead Lake Biological Station. I'll help you write a grant proposal. Please, contact me if interested.

Page last updated: 29 May 2020