Research

ecology symbol

Ecology

genetics symbol

Conservation Genetics

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ecology symbolEcology
plus signHellbender

Our lab is currently studying the spatial ecology (e.g., dispersal, home-range size, and seasonal movement patterns), survivorship, and habitat use of the eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) in Indiana. One of our areas of research is focused on using radio-telemetric techniques to evaluate the efficacy (e.g., survivorship) of translocations for future hellbender conservation and management. We are also using ecological niche modeling to help determine appropriate sites within Indiana for hellbender population augmentations and reintroductions.

plus signBox Turtle

The eastern box turtle is a species in a decline across much of its range. However, much of its ecology remains poorly understood. In the Williams lab we have studied several of these in large, multi-year studies, including their home range response to various hardwood harvest techniques, thermal ecology, winter survival, and blood chemistry parameters. We also study disease dynamics in box turtles and other herpetofauna.

plus signTimber Rattlesnakes

The Williams Lab has a large focus in the conservation of threatened and endangered species. Timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) are a state endangered species in Indiana and are restricted to large patches of forest in the south-central part of the state. Several timber rattlesnake studies are ongoing at the moment to look at the effects of timber harvest on behavior and movement. Currently our lab is interested in assessing the overall health of the wild population of timber rattlesnakes in Indiana using hematology parameters and body condition indices as indicators of individual and population health as well as habitat quality. Determining overall health of threatened or endangered species can play a critical role in management success.

plus signWoodland Salamanders

Woodland salamanders serve as ideal indicators of ecosystem integrity in the eastern United States. Our lab has examined how different management approaches may impact behavior, abundance, demography, and species composition at varying degrees, and these impacts may occur over varying time periods, depending on the type of management.

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genetics symbolConservation Genetics
plus signBox Turtle

Genetics tools are indispensible in conservation as they can often reveal unknown factors. We have evaluated eastern box turtle population genetics at multiple spatial scales, from single forest to range wide. We also study the genetic bases for immune responses in box turtles, as disease is a chief threat to chelonians worldwide.

plus signHellbender

Our previous genetic work on hellbenders has included the use of molecular methods to reveal the relationships among populations of hellbenders within Indiana (Blue River) and across the United States. Identifying suitable source populations of hellbenders is an important step towards the conservation of this species, since hellbender population management efforts revolve around the use of translocations. By comparing the population structure of hellbenders across their range, one can direct translocation events between sites in order to increase population densities while decreasing structure.

Current work relies on the use of molecular techniques to evaluate the immunogenetics of hellbenders. Infections by pathogens such as chytrid fungus, Ranavirus, and bacteria have been reported in hellbenders across their range. Additionally, high rates of necrotizing infections have been reported in one of the subspecies of hellbenders, the Ozark hellbender. Our first approach is to utilize next generation sequencing (NGS) to identify the microbiota on the skin and wounds of both hellbender subspecies, and then compare the microbial diversity between the two. Following this, we plan to characterize the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) genes of hellbenders and evaluate their diversity. Eventually, we plan to compare the immunogenetic diversity to the microbiota results in order to see if there is an association between the character of the immune genes and resistance to pathogens. Through this work, we hope to identify if there is an immunogenetic cause to the increase in infections in Ozark hellbenders. If so, this data can be utilized to direct hellbender breeding programs to produce hellbenders with an increased immunity towards current hellbender pathogens.

plus signWoodland Salamanders

We use molecular methods to determine genetic variation within red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus). Red-backed salamanders are an ideal species to study population genetics because of their large abundance, small home-range size, and limited dispersal capabilities. Population genetics studies are often done within fragmented habitats to determine how fragmentation may shape and change the structure of populations by reducing genetic variation. As a lab, we feel it is important to first understand the genetic patterns of species within relatively intact and continuous habitats. Understanding this will help to understand how future fragmentation may affect populations, as well as provide historical data and support for future research.

plus signGreen Frog

We use molecular methods to test for amphibian diseases like Ranaviruses and Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) in green frog (Lithobates clamitans) tadpoles. Ranavirus is a viral pathogen that naturally infects amphibians, reptiles, or fish, but is the primary viral genus infecting contemporary amphibian populations. Although ranavirus attacks the inner-immune system, Bd is an infectious skin disease that causes chytridiomycosis, a disease that infects the epidermis of amphibians and is spread through zoospores. Our lab focuses on how these diseases are spread throughout Indiana in green frog populations and the molecular techniques that detect the presence.