My research concerns the behavior, ecology, evolution, and conservation biology of vertebrates. I focus on how morphology and behavior interact in the origins of evolutionary novelties, and on the reasons for geographic variation in the structure of ecological communities; I seek to understand those topics within an historical evolutionary context, and work primarily with lizards and snakes. Within that evolutionary and ecological framework, I gather information on morphology and natural history from museum specimens (e.g., stomach contents), and I use radiotelemetry to assemble behavioral inventories for free-living animals .
My research strategy is to accumulate data on several species at a site, sometimes for several years. From 1982 to 1992 I worked in Costa Rica and now am preparing results of those studies for publication. In 1993 I studied Amazonian snakes in Brazil with local collaborators, and in 1997 I spent a month in northern Vietnam; funds permitting, I might return to those or other tropical countries. Since 1987 I have worked in the mountains of southeastern Arizona, in collaboration with Tucson physician David L. Hardy Sr., and will continue there for the foreseeable future. The Arizona field studies initially focused on foraging ecology of several species of rattlesnakes, but now our efforts have shifted to social behavior. Female Black-tailed Rattlesnakes (Crotalus molossus) remain with their neonates for about 10 days after birth (during which they otherwise could feed); gravid females are secretive and immobile, so we intercept during mating and implant them with locator transmitters for study during the ensuing summer birthing season, then directly observe mother-young interactions.
With respect to future directions, I am increasingly intrigued by prospects for studying behavioral development in nature. With that in mind and in collaboration with Harvey Lillywhite (University of Florida), I am contemplating field studies of Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus). In some populations these snakes have dramatic shifts with age in diet and foraging tactics, and we hope to directly observe the changing behavior of telemetered animals as they grow. I am also excited about macroecological perspectives, and hope to learn enough about GIS to use landscape-scale data sets to explore the historical biogeography of predators and prey. Finally, I continue to actively watch for ways to integrate my basic research with education and conservation.
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