Projects

I participate in a series of interdisciplinary, collaborative projects with disease ecologists, herpetologists, and historians. My interests span taxa from frogs to grizzly bears.


Foothill yellow-legged frog conservation in northern California

  Rana boylii . Photo credit: Sarah Kupferberg

Rana boylii. Photo credit: Sarah Kupferberg

Foothill yellow-legged frogs are an obligate stream-breeding species that are rarely found more than a few meters from water. Native only to California and Oregon, they have declined from over half of their range. Their persistence is closely tied to the natural flow of the rivers on which they depend, and we are finding that additional factors, such as invasive species and disease, may act synergistically to spell trouble for this species. We recently published a portion of this work in Ecosphere.

Collaborators: Sarah Kupferberg, Mark Wilber, Allan Pessier, Marcia Grefsrud, Steve Bobzien, Vance Vredenburg, Cherie Briggs


Disease Ecology of Amphibians in Baja California, Mexico

  Rana draytonii  in Baja California.

Rana draytonii in Baja California.

Many parts of the world are undersampled for the often-deadly fungal amphibian pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). We are monitoring a suite of amphibian species throughout different habitats at a range of elevational gradients in Baja California for the fungus, and characterizing trends in its distribution and prevalence in the region. The sampling area is home to an isolated population of U.S. Endangered Species Act-listed California red-legged frogs (Rana draytonii). The first of a series of publications from this work was just published in Diseases of Aquatic Organisms.

Collaborators: Anny Peralta-Garcia, Carlos Alberto Flores-López, Jorge H. Valdez Villavicencio, Cherie Briggs


Historical Grizzly Diet in California

  Ursus  collection at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History's La Brea Tar Pits.

Ursus collection at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History's La Brea Tar Pits.

This is a subproject of the California Grizzly Study Group at UC Santa Barbara, which aims to provide a resource for California grizzly reintroductions. Grizzlies are known for their varied, omnivorous diets; however, most of the research on grizzly diets in North America has focused on where the species is extant--in mountainous or boreal regions--places that are very different from California. This project uses stable isotope analysis of California grizzly tissue archived in natural history museums. Our primary goal is to better understand the historical ecology of grizzlies from California before their extirpation, in order to inform maps of potential future grizzly habitat in the state. 

Collaborators: Alexis Mychajliw, Kevin Brown, Mark Page, Molly Hardesty-Moore, Peter Alagona, Scott Cooper, Zoe Welch


Detecting DNA from formalin-fixed museum specimens

  Rana  collections at the University of Michigan.

Rana collections at the University of Michigan.

Optimizing techniques is an essential component underlying ecological research. As new technologies are developed, often well-established protocols are continually used when it is possible to make changes to improve their precision. Museum specimen collections provide indispensable repositories of information that only need to be unlocked with effective technologies and refined methodologies. For this project, I tested various methods of detecting Bd DNA from formalin-fixed specimens using qPCR, and found that DNA extraction method matters--resulting in an improvement of approximately 40% over the most frequently used protocol. The results of this work were published in PLoS ONE.

Collaborators: Kathryn Richards-Hrdlicka, John LaBonte, Morgan Ball, Mary Toothman, Cherie Briggs


Southern California Amphibian Declines

  Anaxyrus californicus . Photo credit: Sam Sweet

Anaxyrus californicus. Photo credit: Sam Sweet

California and western North America are hotspots for endemic biodiversity, and amphibians are no exception. Southern California's Mediterranean climate--characterized by cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers--makes it a unique place to examine amphibian assemblages and their responses to various stressors. Mediterranean streams in particular are highly sensitive to anthropogenic change. Many of the amphibian species native to southern California have declined substantially, but none is more stark than that of the foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii), which went from very abundant to undetectable in a period of less than 10 years. For this project, I combine a series of methodologies from history and ecology, including interviews with experts and sampling of natural history collections, to examine the timing and causes of amphibian declines in southern California, including disease and rapid land use change. Results of this work were recently published in the journal Ecology and Evolution. I also wrote a blog post summarizing the project.

Collaborators: Allan Pessier, Cherie Briggs