His research studies the ecology of natural selection using experimental techniques. His studies focus on a number of specific problems ranging from the differences in inflorescence size among populations of the flypoison lily, Zigadenus (Amianthium) muscatoxicus in Virginia to the striking divergence in body size in north Florida populations of the sailfin molly, Poecilia latipinna. Populations of least killifish vary widely in density as well as in the form and amplitude of their fluctuations in population density, and in recent work Travis has identified which ecological factors are responsible for these differences in density regimes and what might be their cascading effects. He also is part of a large team of scientists, led by David Reznick of the University of California, Riverside, that is investigating how adaptation in Trinidadian guppies, Poecilia reticulata, alters how guppies interact with their predators and creates cascading effects on energy flow through the mountain stream ecosystem.
He received his Ph.D. from Duke University in 1980. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 2005 he served as President of the American Society of Naturalists. In 2011 he won the E. O. Wilson Naturalist Award from the American Society of Naturalists. The award "is given to an active investigator in mid-career who has made significant contributions to the knowledge of a particular ecosystem or group of organisms."
- Florida State University News, June 22, 2011
- Biography page, Florida State University
- Ruse, Michael, and Travis, Joseph, Evolution: the first four billion years, Harvard University Press, 2009
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