The Conservation Physiology and Wildlife Ecotoxicology Program in Virginia Tech’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation is directed by Dr. William Hopkins.
Our research team has two broad focal areas, one centered on basic scientific discovery related to rapid global change, and the other working to develop practical solutions to modern socio-environmental problems. The first focal area deals with parental effects on offspring fitness. In recent years we have specifically focused on incubation behavior in precocial and altricial birds, nest site selection in reptiles, and parental care behaviors in amphibians. We are primarily interested in identifying the proximate and ultimate consequences of variation in egg incubation conditions for adult fitness and offspring phenotype, and the consequences of parental care decisions for offspring success. We also seek to understand how modern ecological problems (e.g., climate change, habitat degradation, pollution) may influence these critical parent-offspring interactions.
Our second area of focus is how anthropogenic disturbances, particularly water pollution, climate change, and habitat degradation alter the ability of birds and herpetofauna to interact appropriately with their environment. Specific emphasis is placed on how these factors influence health of parents and the fitness consequences of maternal transfer of toxic compounds to young. Endpoints include developmental responses and an array of sublethal responses with implications for fitness, including changes in energy allocation, behavior, reproductive success, and measures of performance. Much of this work adopts an experimental approach, coupling laboratory, field, outdoor mesocosm experiments, and mathematical modeling to understand the transgenerational effects of chronic exposure to contaminants on wildlife. This work typically involves collaboration with decisions makers, both locally and nationally, to develop science-based solutions and practical management decisions.