Thanks to generous donor support, Dr. Bronwyn Heather Bleakley’s evolutionary biology lab has benefitted from philanthropy to ensure that she has access to the materials, supplies, and equipment necessary to continue her cutting-edge research and teaching 
in the field of animal behavior. 

The Bleakley Lab

Dr. Bleakley’s research focuses on the evolutionary genetics of social behavior. She uses inbred and wild lines of guppies to explore how the genetic component of the social environment influences antipredator behavior and cooperation. She also uses invertebrates to understand the genetics of cannibalism and how social selection acts on cannibalism. Her research projects, supported by a combination of public and private gifts and grants, explore how genetic variation interacts with social organization to influence behavior. 


Professor and Students
Dr. Bleakey and students

Dr. Bleakley also continues to be unwavering in her advocacy for and mentorship of Stonehill students. Throughout her career, Dr. Bleakley has mentored students from diverse and underrepresented populations in the sciences—students from minority backgrounds, female STEM majors, and first-generation students—to achieve undergraduate and post-graduate success. She has effectively integrated her research and teaching to allow her students to perform significant research in her laboratory and grow as scientific researchers.

Dr. Bleakley’s skills as a faculty mentor are exceptional, and their benefit to our students is immeasurable: 

“During my freshman year as a first-generation college student, I was struggling in my science classes. Through Professor Bleakley’s guidance, I was able to continue pursuing my degree in biology. She is always there to help her students in and outside of class.”

Recent Experiment

Among the recent experiments underway in the Bleakley Lab is a guppy responding to a mechanosensory stimulus (pressure waves in the water). View a high speed video of the guppy’s response below. This experiment allows for the visualization of the external sensory network on the skin of the fish—the lateral line that senses pressure waves—to the very fine scale behavior of the fish, which is measured at the scale of milliseconds. The experiment will help to verify that the density and distribution of the structures that comprise the lateral line translate to greater or lesser sensitivity to mechanosensory stimuli, which is assumed to be true but not at all well studied.

Guppy's response to a mechanosensory stimulus

Lateral line picture for the guppy - left

Lateral line picture for the guppy - right

Recent Equipment Purchase to Mitigate Current Challenges and Enhance Data Collection in the Laboratory 

The impact on teaching and learning in the sciences during the coronavirus pandemic has been significant. Our faculty have needed to identify new ways to educate students in the classroom and adjust processes to give our students hands-on research in the laboratory. It has also impacted our faculty research projects with reductions in staffing and student research assistance to accommodate space needs while practicing physical distancing. With reductions in the number of people collecting data in the Bleakley lab, Dr. Bleakley has upgraded the way she collects data – thanks to donor support. 

At a cost of over $13,000, Dr. Bleakley has combined gifts and grants to purchase a computer, video equipment, and software that will allow her to gather data, use videos to develop course materials, and implement an AI/machine learning package that autoscores guppy behavior.

The suite of computer and video equipment and software  includes the following:

  • Ethovision XT Base - video tracking for fish that will allow for automated data collection and in-depth analysis on behavior,  interactions, and activity of Dr. Bleakley’s guppy populations. 
  • Ethovision XT – Social Interactions Module to track multiple fish simultaneously and calculate a list of social parameters, such as time spent within a certain distance of each other or mean proximity. 

Over the years, Dr. Bleakley’s research, and her ability to provide hands-on teaching and learning for talented science students, has greatly benefitted from donor generosity. Thanks to continued support, she can now mitigate the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic as she improves her data collection processes. 

Examples of Equipment to be Installed in the Bleakley Lab in Spring 2021

  • EthoVision XT 15 with Base and Social Interactions Modules

  • Video Camera Ceiling Mount

  • Video Camera with Articulating Arm

Dr. Bronwyn Heather Bleakley

Dr. Bleakley is an Associate Professor of Biology and the Biology Department Chair.

In 2015, Dr. Bleakley was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Grant worth $899,000. The grant allowed Bleakley to expand her research on proximate and evolutionary causes of social behaviors while giving Stonehill students comprehensive research and mentorship experiences. It marks the first NSF CAREER Grant awarded to a faculty member at the College.