How organisms respond to their environment depends on both external factors (ecology), internal factors (physiology), and the interaction between the two. In addition, responses to both natural and human-generated environmental changes vary within and between species and over time. Evolutionary theory helps us understand and potentially predict how and why these responses may differ across organisms. Our research focuses on the use of concepts in ecology, evolutionary biology, and physiology to study toxicology, disease, and adaption in organisms. Specific research topics that we currently work on are indicated below.
Environmental Stress, Toxicity, and Disease: We are interested in understanding how environmental stressors such as chemicals may impact the ability of organisms to defend against infection either through direct toxicity to immune cells or through indirect effects to other physiological systems that may alter the immune response. We are also interested in examining whether immunotoxic effects at the individual level result in effects to whole populations or species.
Evolutionary Approaches to Ecotoxicology: Ecotoxicologists often ignore the relationship between species when evaluating sensitivity to chemicals. Yet there is evidence that, like many other traits, toxicity is highly dependent on species relationships. We seek to further describe the phylogenetic basis for sensitivity and how this can be used to uncover key mechanisms of toxicity and their evolutionary underpinnings. Collaborators on this project include: Mace Barron (USEPA), Ylenia Chiari (University of South Alabama), Isabella Capellini (University of Hull), and Catherine Aubee (USEPA).
Disease and Physiological Evolution in Galapagos Fauna: The Galapagos Islands are ideal for studying how ecological and evolutionary factors influence the physiology of organisms. We seek to understand how the ecological conditions of the islands, including climate, invasive species, and island size and isolation affect levels of parasitism and functional diversity in Galapagos reptiles, including giant tortoises and marine iguanas. Collaborators on this project include: Greg Lewbart (NC State), Maximilian Hirschfeld (Galapagos Science Consortium), Ylenia Chiari (University of South Alabama), Gisella Caccone (Yale University), and Ken Lohmann (UNC Chapel Hill)