We use a combination of field, laboratory, and bioinformatic methods to better understand ecology and evolution. Most (but not all!) of our research is focused on Appalachian amphibians, especially the lungless salamanders of the family Plethodontidae. (I think that the foreword to Dunn's 1926 text on the group best describes why these salamanders have captivated so many of us!) Below, you can read a bit more about some of the major themes of our work. 

variation in reproductive behavior & morphology

Plethodontid salamanders engage in fascinating, ritualized courtship and have suites of morphological traits used in these behaviors. Males of some species of "brook salamanders" (Eurycea) exhibit two discrete strategies found within a single population—a phenomenon know as "alternative reproductive tactics". We study the origin, maintenance, and consequences of this variation using a combination of local fieldwork, laboratory experiments, examination of museum specimens, and genomic data.

hybridization, phylogeography, & species delimitation

Evolution is complicated! Sometimes, speciation happens with continuous gene flow. Other times, species that diverged in allopatry hybridize in new regions of secondary contact. Appalachian salamanders make for compelling models for studying these processes of reticulate evolution. We use local fieldwork and genomic data to better understand how changing landscapes explain the distribution of genetic diversity, especially in the two-lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata) species complex.

conservation of rare and imperiled species

Effective conservation is dependent upon good science. We work with conservation biologists at government agencies and non-governmental organizations to provide important data about the distribution and status of imperiled Appalachian organisms. This work includes basic field surveys, the development of molecular methods for locating organisms (i.e., environmental DNA), and the use of population genomic data to estimate gene flow among populations. 

© 2020 by Todd W. Pierson