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Organismal and Environmental Biology at CNU

CNU.edu

Research

Research in the Lattanzio Lab covers aspects of evolutionary ecology, physiology, population biology, community ecology, and conservation of reptiles and amphibians. Lab members pursue diverse experimental topics that don't necessarily coincide with Dr. Lattanzio's ongoing research in AZ. So if you're interested in our subject areas or research questions, contact us!

All of our current projects fall under one or more of the following four broad research foci:

 

Physiological and Ecological Consequences of Sexual Size Dimorphism and Color Polymorphism (2009 - Present)

Most work in this focus occurs in Arizona; however, we are beginning to conduct some research on the ecology of sexual-size dimorphism in eastern fence lizards here in VA. Broadly, we are interested in how traits and trait complexes linked to reproductive success and mating behavior influence how individuals, populations, and entire species exploit their environment. However, because the consequences of those interactions may be condition-dependent, we typically take advantage of natural and human-induced environmental gradients in our work. This is one of our broader foci and as such involves several focal species (mostly lizards) and utilizes numerous techniques including physiological performance experiments, behavioral assays, field surveys, stable isotope analysis/diet reconstruction, social network analysis, and capture-mark-recapture methods, to name a few.

 

Ecological and Evolutionary Responses of Lizards to Recent Climate Change (2015 - Present)

Climate change represents a major threat to biodiversity given its role in numerous cases of population extinction and community disassembly world-wide, highlighting a growing need to understand how species are responding to this ongoing threat. Our lab is expanding on a recently funded project investigating how lizards in particular are responding to rising temperatures in terms of their morphological attributes, and whether shifts in ecological traits also coincide with observed patterns of morphological and/or temperature change. We are also interested in how natural selection pressures like climate change perturb sexually-selected phenomena. We are testing hypotheses related to this goal using lizards in the family Phrynosomatidae, and our work combines biophysical modeling, climate projections, historical (museum-based) and contemporary (field-based) lizard surveys, capture-mark-recapture methods, and physiological experiments.

 

Local Adaptation and the Ecological and Evolutionary Success of Widespread Species (2015 - Present)

There are numerous examples of widespread taxa, and many of them happen to be reptiles (which includes birds[!!]). Lizards and snakes often exhibit especially wide ranges, even if the individual animals themselves are poor dispersers (i.e., many lizards). We take an ecological and microevolutionary approach towards addressing this goal that integrates intensive field work, physiological performance experiments in the lab, stable isotope analysis, and capture-mark-recapture methods to evaluate the potentially adaptive traits that make widespread reptiles so successful. Currently, the bulk of this work is being led by Zach, Will, and Julie.

 

Role of Behavior in the Maintenance of Morph Roles in Color Polymorphic Species (2011 - Present)

Behavioral interactions are situated at the nexus of ecology and evolution and provide a key bridge between individual-level traits and population fitness in the wild. These interactions have the potential to drive ecological diversification, for example, as well as contribute to (or perturb) the maintenance of morph differences. Work towards this focus is largely undergraduate-student driven, and focuses on illuminating how behaviors unrelated to social dominance hierarchies in polymorphic systems (or at least, asymmetric to them) influence their social and ecological dynamics. One of the interesting outcomes of this work thus far by Julie suggests that variation among the color morphs of ornate tree lizards in boldness may allow subordinate males to exploit high-quality territories in predator-rich habitats, which is associated with higher fitness. We estimate behavioral traits both in the lab and the field, and rely on field data to evaluate their ecological and social relevance (e.g., via social network analysis).