Eastern Fence Lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) use blue color signals (left) and chemicals from the femoral glands on the leg (right) to communicate.
The question that drives my research: How do chemical signals control our social lives? I am interested in the endocrine and exocrine chemical signals that modulate social behavior in territorial animals, and I approach this research from an integrative and comparative perspective. My research integrates the fields of chemical and behavioral ecology, neuroethology, and evolutionary biology and I use lizards as an animal model. My current animal models include Anolis carolinensis and several species from the genus Sceloporus.
I examine the role of arginine vasotocin in mediating territorial and reproductive interactions through the chemical sensory system. My current work focuses on the neural processes involved in establishment and maintenance of dominant-subordinate relationships and acquisition of mating opportunities. My previous work demonstrated the important role of chemical signals in mediating territorial space use in the field, and emphasized species and individual differences in chemical signal composition. My research integrates behavioral assays in the field and lab with techniques from neuroethology and analytical chemistry (gas and liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry) to understand how dynamic changes in social relationships are chemically-mediated, either internally via neurotransmitters or externally via chemical communication.
Above photo: Sceloporus jarrovii, Yarrow's Spiny Lizard, in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona. This male is showing off the femoral pores on its left thigh. These femoral pores secrete chemical signals used in social and territorial communication. These are the chemical signals I study.
I research how chemical signals and specific elements within these signals impact competitive behavior and territorial space use using Sceloporus lizards.
A territorial encounter: two adult Sceloporus jarrovii males in a territorial bout of aggression
A mating encounter: an adult male Sceloporus undulatus engaged in a neck bite with a female.
I use behavioral playbacks in the field to ask about the impact of chemical signals on space use, and the relative roles of signaler or receiver physiology and environment in shaping chemical communication. I also combine techniques from chemical ecology in the field with chemical analyses in the lab using gas-chromatography/mass-spectrometry (GCMS) to examine the behavioral and functional significance of pheromone candidates that we recently found in Sceloporus femoral gland secretions, but were previously unknown to be produced by lizards.
Finally, I borrow phylogenetic comparative methods and analytical techniques from microbiology to ask about evolutionary constraints on chemical communication. These studies focus on the diverse habitats Sceloporus lizards live in, as well as the microbial communities inhabiting lizard scent glands.
2010-2012 Undergraduate Training in Theoretical Ecological Research (UTTER) Funded by NSF through the University of Texas, Arlington, the UTTER program is a two year integrated research and education experience for undergraduates in biology and mathematics. In my cohort of 8 students, I collaborated with other biology and math majors to approach ecological and biological problems through the use of mathematical models. Projects were mentored by Drs. James Grover and Hristo Kojouharov. 2012 Quorum sensing interaction and the effect of antibiotic on the dynamics of two types of bacteria. 2011 Effects of nutrient pollution and over-fishing on the growth of coral: a mathematical model.
2009-2010 NSF Big Thicket National Preserve (BTNP) Summer Research Institute A mentored undergraduate research experience combining field collection techniques with scanning electron microscopy in the lab under the mentorship of Dr. Carl Knight.
2010 Comparing Rhynchospora indianolensis (Small) and Rhynchospora scutellata (Griseb.) achene dimensions (SEM) to consider one single species. 2009 Observing an ectoparasitic relationship between leech and turtle species of the BTNP (Placobdella parasitica and Trachemys scripta elegans).
CURRENT UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANTS
Biology/Education Special Major and Premed
FORMER UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANTS
Selma Belkasim Neuroscience major pre-med concentration
Blessy Varghese Neuroscience major pre-med concentration
Gina Bice Neuroscience major
Morgan Herrmann Pre-med, Arizona State University
Neuroscience major, Georgia State University
B.S. Biology, Indiana University
B.A. Anthropology, Indiana University
B.S Biology, Indiana University; M.S. Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Ohio State University