Current Research

Predator-Prey Interactions

I have a long-standing intererst in the hunting behavior of snakes, with an emphasis on predator-prey interactions between rattlesnakes and small mammals. We are currently focusing on interactions between kangaroo rats (Dipodomys spp) and the various rattlesnake species that hunt them, as well as California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) and Northern Pacific rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus). Our effort in this area builds upon the research careers of others that produced an amazing body of work on snake/mammal interactions, including the ground squirrel/rattlesnake work of Richard Coss and Don Owings from UC Davis, and the kangaroo rat/snake work of Jan Randall from San Francisco State University. We’re attempting to integrate behavioral studies with research on biomechanics, physiology, and functional morphology of both predator and prey in order to move toward a more holistic understanding of the costs and constraints of antagonistic coevolution.  To that end, in addition to field behavior and ecology, lab members are working on venom chemistry and venom resistance, the sensory ecology of the pit organ, and the biomechanics of evasive jumping in small mammals.

Conservation and Population Ecology

On the more applied side of science, I have a deep commitment to helping us understand and mitigate the ongoing global loss of biodiversity, and a number of my research projects focus on conservation and management. Sevearl of these projects use population genetics and other tools to understand connectivity and population structure in the context of anthropogenic habitat fragmentation.  Other projects include understanding anthropogenic impacts on population demography, growth rates, and persistance of species in fragmented habitats. My group works collaboratively with local management agencies, and tends to focus on representative species from the local community to examine different aspects of their ecology relating to population size, movements, dispersal, and habitat use.  We often combine genetic tools with ecological monitoring to examine population structure and connectivity in relation to natural landscape features and anthropogenic barriers.  This work will give us a better understanding of how different species living in the same ecosystem are impacted by local anthropogenic barriers such as roads and development.  By understanding details of how behavioral differences between species lead to differences in population responses to the same set of anthropogenic pressures, we hope to optimize management and mitigation efforts designed to protect local biodiversity.

Quantitative Natural History

Some projects my lab works on fall into the general category of “quantitative natural history”. I am thrilled by the discovery of new details of the natural lives of animals, and find deep satisfaction in documenting these details in quantitative ways, speculating how certain behaviors or adaptations may have evolved, and publishing these details for the larger community of ecologists and evolutionary biologists to build upon. I think that it is imperative that scientists occasionally explore unknown details of the universe in a haphazard fashion, following their own natural curiosity, with no particular practical or conceptual goals other than satisfying informed inquisitiveness.  Such research often provides the raw material that can be refined into broader conceptual understanding, genearl theories, or practical applications. Without these unfettered academic pursuits, our collective expansion of knowledge would slowly grind to a halt.

Collaborative Research

Much of my current research involves collaborating with my graduate students on their current research projects.  Please see Lab Members page for descriptions of these projects.

Last Updated:  December 2021