I am committed to supporting students from all backgrounds as a research mentor and academic advisor. I provide students with foundational knowledge of ecological concepts and the ability to think scientifically, while also celebrating their identity, culture, and heritage.
View my recent Herpetologist Highlight interview to see my thoughts on mentoring and supporting a diverse and inclusive research environment.
Research Experience for Underrepresented Minority Students
I am a research mentor for a summer REU program in Costa Rica aimed at broadening diversity in STEM. I work one-on-one with two students each summer, guiding them on independent research projects. Students arrive with nearly zero research experience and they end the summer seeing themselves as scientists. Almost all students present their research findings at the SACNAS conference, and prepare manuscripts suitable for scientific publication!
The bigger the bolder: dewlap size in male water anoles associates with boldness
KYLEE AZURE - Aaniiih Nakoda Tribal College
Kylee explored the relationship between male anole dewlap size (a sexually-selected trait) and boldness by testing field-caught lizards in a novel arena in the lab. She measured boldness as the time to emerge from a refuge and the number of head scans during the first minute after emergence. She found that dewlap size positively associated with boldness suggesting that males might experience a trade-off between mating success and predation risk. She recently published her work in Current Zoology!!
Habitat effects on predation risk in water anoles, Anolis aquaticus
SATTIE WHITEFOOT - Salish Kootenai Tribal College
Sattie made dozens of clay lizard models and placed them out in various locations to understand how habitat type, distance to human activity, and perch selection affect predation risk in anoles. She quantified risk by counting bite marks on the clay models. She presented her work at the SACNAS Conference and won the award for best student poster presentation!
The impact of observer clothing color on the behavior of Anolis aquaticus
ANDREA FONDREN - Iowa State University
Andrea looked at whether T-shirt color affected our teams' success at finding and capturing anoles. She found that wearing clothing that resembled the sexually-selected signaling color (orange) of the male dewlap resulted in more anole sightings per hour and a trend toward a greater capture rate than wearing blue (rare color) or green (inconspicuous color).
Comparing intersexual differences in boldness and activity in Anolis aquaticus
AUSTIN CARRIERE - University of Oklahoma
Austin followed up on Kylee's study by examining how the sexes might differ in boldness and activity in a novel area. He found that males were more likely to emerge from a refuge into the arena than females, but females seemed to be more active than males once emerged. His work might help explain dissimilar selective pressures affecting females and males in water anoles, a sexually dimorphic species.
Independent Student Researchers
At each institution where I have worked, I advised diverse students in designing and conducting their own research project, which are all suited for scientific publication. Every student I have worked with is from a group considered historically underrepresented in STEM, and each has gone on to higher-level training or a STEM-based career.
Rattlesnake encounters enhance vigilance behavior of California ground squirrels
REY AYON - NIH Initiative for Maximizing Student Development Scholar at SDSU
Rey examined how exposure to live snakes modifies ground squirrel vigilance and perception of risk. He found that rattlesnake encounters increased antisnake behavior toward a rattlesnake plaster model and a novel object, objects that before were not treated as dangerous (in a previous experiment). Vigilant squirrels also treated rattlesnake models as more dangerous than novel objects, but only after recently encountering a snake in the same area. Rey's results indicate that squirrels modify threat-sensitive behavior based on previous encounters with predators. Rey just graduated with his M.S. from the University of Chicago, and recently got his manuscript published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology!
The importance of olfaction in snake detection and discrimination by California ground squirrels
JENNY SCHEFSKI - SDSU
Jenny tested the relative importance of vision and olfaction in detecting snakes, and in discriminating between venomous rattlesnakes and non-venomous gopher snakes. Next to active squirrel burrows, she placed dirt imbued with snake scent (gopher or rattle), snake models imbued with snake scent (gopher or rattle), or unscented snake models. She used security cameras to record squirrel behaviors to each stimulus. Overall, squirrels responded more strongly to scented models than unscented models suggesting olfaction is important in detecting snakes. Jenny is now in Veterinary School in Colorado.
Do snakes stress out squirrels?
LAUREN KONG - Barrett Research Scholar at Mills College
Lauren was a student in the Smith Lab at Mills College, one of my collaborators. She managed a project examining whether encounters with rattlesnakes and gopher snakes induce a stress response in ground squirrels. Lauren collected fecal samples from squirrels after they had encountered live snakes. These sampled were analyzed for the presence of corticosterone, and we found that snakes indeed induced a stress response, but this response was lessened by the presence of conspecifics. Thus, social buffering may occur in wild animals and could be an additional benefit of group living. Lauren is now a Master's student at Nicholls State University.
Morphological changes in lizards in response to urbanization
MARIA GASCA - CARE Fellows Scholar at UCLA
Maria is currently working on the Lizards in Los Angeles Project. She is describing rapid morphological changes in lizards due to urbanization by comparing museum specimens collected at sites prior to urban development to lizards collected at the same sites today (now developed). She is quantifying changes in body size, limb and toe lengths, and scales counts. She has one paper in review and has won an honorable mention award for a research poster at the California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP) Symposium (UC Irvine 2017).
Use of clay lizard models to evaluate the effect of color markings on predation risk in fence lizards
KEITTY CALDERON-CHALCO - UCLA
Keitty won the Life Science Dean's Award to conduct research. She is working on the Lizards in Los Angeles Project. She used clay models of western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) to examine how color markings influence predation risk. She is now conducted a meta-analysis on reptile responses to urbanization.
The effect of urbanization on tail loss and ectoparasite loads in alligator lizards
RILEY WILLIAMS - NHMLA
Riley was the NHMLA summer field tech in 2017. As part of his position, he conducted an independent project using photo observations from the Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California citizen science project to determine whether urbanization influences tail loss rates and ectoparasite loads in an urban-tolerant lizard. He found that parasite levels decreased, while tail loss increased with urban development.