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Sean Lema

Sean Lema

Contact Information

Assistant Professor

Office: 33-370
Phone: (805) 756-2802

Research Interests:

  • Endocrine disruption by chemical pollutants
  • Behavioral ecology of marine and freshwater fishes
  • Environmental endocrinology
  • Evolution of developmental and behavioral plasticity in changing environments
  • Integration of phenotypic plasticity into new approaches to conservation


Ph.D., Animal Behavior, University of California, Davis, 2004
M.S., Animal Behavior, University of California, Davis, 2001
B.S., Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, 1999

Professional Appointments:

Assistant Professor of Biology, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, 2011-Present
Assistant Professor of Biology and Marine Biology, Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina, Wilmington, 2008-2011
Postdoctoral Associate, West Coast Center for Oceans and Human Health, NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Seattle, WA, 2004-2007

Current Research Projects:

  • Impacts of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants on the thyroid system of teleost fishes.
  • Integration of morphological and endocrine biomarkers in fish as indicators of environmental chemical pollutant exposure.
  • Impacts of changing coral reef ecosystems for reef fish behavior and physiology.
  • Ecological and evolutionary diversification of social behavior, stress reactivity and osmoregulatory ability in fishes through vasotocin and isotocin nonapeptide hormone pathways.
  • Endocrine disruption in marine fishes and invertebrates by xenoestrogen chemicals (e.g., 4-nonylphenol).

Selected recent publications:

Hardy, K.M., Follett, C.R., Burnett, L.E., Lema S.C. (2012) Gene transcripts encoding hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) exhibit tissue- and muscle fiber type-dependent responses to hypoxia and hypercapnic hypoxia in the Atlantic blue crab, Callinectes sapidus. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A 163, 137-146.

Schrandt, M.S., Hardy, K.M., Johnson, K.M., Lema, S.C. (2012) Physical habitat and social conditions across a coral reef shape spatial patterns of intraspecific behavioral variation in a demersal fish. Marine Ecology 33, 149-164.

Schrandt, M.S., Lema, S.C. (2011) Intraspecific variation in stress reactivity of a demersal fish associates with spatial variation in coral reef structure. Marine Ecology Progress Series 443, 153-166.

Johnson, K.M., Lema, S.C. (2011) Tissue-specific regulation of gene transcripts encoding iodothyronine deiodinases and thyroid hormone receptors in striped parrotfish (Scarus iserti). General and Comparative Endocrinology 172, 505-517.

Lema, S.C., Wagstaff, L.J., Gardner, N.M. (2010) Diurnal rhythms of behavior and brain mRNA expression for arginine vasotocin, isotocin and their receptors in wild Amargosa pupfish. Marine and Freshwater Behavior and Physiology 43, 257-281.

Kitano, J., Lema, S.C., Luckenbach, J.A., Mori, S., Kawagishi, Y., Kusakabe, M., Swanson, P., Peichel, C.L. (2010) Adaptive divergence in the thyroid hormone signaling pathway in the stickleback radiation. Current Biology 20, 2124-2130.

Lema, S.C. (2010) Identification of multiple vasotocin receptor cDNAs in teleost fish: sequences, phylogenetic analysis, sites of expression, and regulation in the hypothalamus and gill in response to acute osmotic challenge. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology 321, 215-230.

Hardy, K.M., Lema, S.C., Kinsey, S.T. (2010) The metabolic demands of swimming behavior influence the evolution of skeletal muscle fiber design in the Brachyuran swimming crab family Portunidae. Marine Biology 157, 221-236.

Lema, S.C., Dickey, J.T., Schultz, I.R., Swanson, P. (2009) Thyroid hormone regulates mRNAs encoding thyrotropin β-subunit, glycoprotein α-subunit and thyroid hormone receptors in the brain, pituitary gland, liver and gonads of an adult teleost, Pimephales promelas. Journal of Endocrinology 202, 43-54.

Lema, S.C., Dickey, J.T., Schultz, I.R., Swanson, P. (2008) Dietary exposure to 2,2',4,4'-tetrabromodiphenyl ether (PBDE 47) alters thyroid status and thyroid hormone-regulated gene transcription in the pituitary and brain. Environmental Health Perspectives 116, 1694-1699.

DeBose, J.L., Lema, S.C., Nevitt, G.A. (2008) Dimethylsulfoniopropionate as a foraging cue for reef fishes. Science 319, 1356.

Lema, S.C. (2008) The phenotypic plasticity of Death Valley's pupfish. American Scientist 96, 28-36.

Lema, S.C., Schultz, I.R., Scholz, N.L., Incardona, J.P., Swanson, P. (2007) Neural defects and cardiac arrhythmia in fish larvae following embryonic exposure to 2,2',4,4'-tetrabromodiphenyl ether (PBDE 47). Aquatic Toxicology 82, 296-307

Lema, S.C. (2006) Population divergence in plasticity of the AVT system and its association with aggressive behaviors in a Death Valley pupfish. Hormones and Behavior 50, 183-193.

Lema, S.C., Nevitt, G.A. (2006) An ecophysiological mechanism for morphological plasticity in pupfish and its relevance to conservation efforts for endangered Devils Hole pupfish. Journal of Experimental Biology 209, 3499-3509.

Kihslinger, R.L., Lema, S.C., Nevitt, G.A. (2006) Environmental rearing conditions produce forebrain differences in wild Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A 145, 145-151.

Lema, S.C., Hodges, M.J., Marchetti, M.P., Nevitt, G.A. (2005) Proliferation zones in the salmon telencephalon and evidence for environmental influence on proliferation rate. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A 141, 327-335.

Lema, S.C., Nevitt, G.A. (2004) Evidence that thyroid hormone induces olfactory cellular proliferation in salmon during a sensitive period for imprinting. Journal of Experimental Biology 207, 3317-3327.

Current Graduate Students:

  • Kaitlin Johnson
  • Former Graduate Students:
  • Meagan Schrandt (M.S. Marine Biology, UNC Wilmington, 2010)

Current UnderGraduate Students:

  • Ghislene Adjaoute
  • Kevin Amegin
  • Paul Carvalho
  • Jennifer Egelston
  • Liana Meffert
  • Amanda Muzzio
  • Brian Rice
  • Katie Sanders
  • Kayla Walti

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