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Lab Mission: To understand the ecological ramifications of human actions through studying amphibian populations and communities.



Our research bridges ecological and conservation science using amphibians. Amphibians are sensitive indicators of environmental health and a model for evaluating environmental change. We are particularly interested in the single and interactive effects of contaminants, disease pathogens, habitat change and alteration, and land use on individual amphibians from hatching through reproduction, and the effects these factors play in population persistence and dispersal. We are examining how tweaks in management practices of areas dominated by human-use or recreation can benefit native species.


Currently, we have four areas of focus all related to our central mission:

1) Impacts of pesticides on amphibian populations and communities. We are currently examining how timing of exposure across life stages impacts the amphibian life cycle. Our pesticide work is leading to a better understanding of how contaminants may impact natural populations and will explain how populations may be impacted, especially in areas like the Midwest where pesticide use is heavy.

2) The effects of habitat use on species movement and distribution. Habitat destruction and alteration is the greatest threat to biodiversity. Temporary pond communities—environments critical for many amphibian species to survive—have little federal protection and are frequently destroyed. Protecting amphibian populations from extinction may necessitate restoring or creating their native habitat; however, we have a very poor understanding of what environmental features are critical for amphibian survival. We are currently exploring how habitat change influence species distributions and genetic diversity.

3) The role of disease pathogen in amphibian development. We are studying the effects of the amphibian chytrid fungus on amphibians at different developmental stages and under different environmental conditions to evaluate how this pathogen associated with amphibian population declines around the world might impact species in our area.

4) The impact of the aquatic environment on metamorphosis and subsequent terrestrial performance. The pond-breeding amphibians that we work with have complex life cycles, meaning that they develop as larvae or tadpoles in an aquatic environment, and then undergo a metamorphic transformation into juveniles that migrate into the terrestrial environment to feed, grow, and become reproductively mature. Looking at both parts of the life cycle is critical to understand the population dynamics of these species. Therefore, we need a better understanding of how conditions in the larval environment influence terrestrial growth and development. We have an array of 200 1000 L mesocosm ponds and 48 outdoor terrestrial enclosures at the Ecology Research Center where we can manipulate the aquatic and terrestrial environments. In this way, we can rear amphibians from hatching through terrestrial life stages to look at the consequences of exposure to factors like contaminants, pathogens, competitors/predators, or canopy cover. This will provide basic life history data that is ecologically important, and it will allow us to understand how anthropogenic factors may affect population dynamics—a critical conservation question.