Our research addresses pressing questions in both basic and applied science.
The Wildlife Ecotoxicology and Physiological Ecology Program in Virginia Tech’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation is directed by Dr. William Hopkins.
The program has two broad focal areas, one centered in basic science and the other dealing with more applied ecological problems. The first focal area deals with parental effects on offspring fitness. In recent years we have specifically focused on incubation behavior in birds, using wood ducks and tree swallows as precocial and altricial avian models, respectively. We are primarily interested in identifying the proximate and ultimate consequences of natural variation in incubation temperature for adult fitness and offspring phenotype. However, we also seek to understand how modern ecological problems (e.g., nest disturbance) may influence this parental-offspring interaction.
Our second area of focus is how anthropogenic disturbances, particularly pollution, alter the ability of birds and herpetofauna to interact appropriately with their environment. Specific emphasis is placed on how pollutants influence maternal health and the fitness consequences of maternal transfer of teratogenic compounds. Endpoints include developmental responses and an array of sublethal responses with demonstrated or theoretical implications for Darwinian fitness, including changes in energy allocation, behavior, reproductive success, and measures of performance. Much of this work adopts an experimental approach, coupling laboratory, field, and outdoor mesocosm experiments to understand the transgenerational effects of chronic dietary exposure of contaminants by high trophic level predators (i.e., snakes, turtles, birds, and amphibians).