P. regilla silhouette
Dr. Michael Benard




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Ecology & Evolution Journal Club

Research overview

My current research focuses on three main questions:

1) How do environmental stressors act across life history stages? In many organisms, the effects of natural and anthropogenic stressors are often investigated in a single life stage. In amphibians, much research on the effects of natural (e.g., predators) and human-caused (e.g., pollutants) stressors has focused on the larval stage. Research in my lab has demonstrated the importance of investigating environmental perturbations across multiple life stages. We have found that amphibians exposed to predators during the tadpole stage alter how they behave after metamorphosis (Barbasch and Benard 2011), and that the type of pond tadpoles develop in alters how fast and for how long juvenile frogs can move on land (Boes and Benard 2013). We have also found that exposure to low concentrations of salt pollution from road de-icers reduces the survival of amphibians after metamorphosis (Dananay, Krynak, Krynak, and Benard, In Press). Similarly, some of Katherine Krynak's dissertation research has found that larval-stage environmental conditions affected post-metamorphic skin peptide secretions but not skin microbial communities (Krynak, Burke and Benard 2015). These studies demonstrate the importance of investigating the effect of environmental stressors across life stages; focusing solely on a single life stage would greatly underestimate the impact of these stressors.

2) What is the importance of individual differences in phenotype and genotype? Ecologists are increasingly recognizing the importance of phenotypic and genotypic variation among individuals. I have conducted experiments that demonstrated that the amount of phenotypic and genetic variation in ecological communities affects intraspecific competition, resource consumption, and microbial communities (Benard and Middlemis Maher 2011).

3) What are the effects of processes acting over large spatial or temporal scales? A major challenge to understanding how species will respond to environmental change is that many ecological processes act over large temporal and spatial scales that cannot be replicated in the laboratory. Thus, accurately determining how species, ecological communities, and ecosystems are affected by environmental change requires us to gather ecological data over many years and across spatially distributed habitats. I have three long-term projects that address this challenge:

3a) E.S. George Reserve (hereafter ESGR) Survey: The ESGR Survey is a long-term study in which the abundance of amphibians, fish and invertebrates at 37 wetlands was measured multiple times per year for 17 years at the ES George Reserve. The broad scope of the ESGR Survey has allowed investigation of a diverse range of ecological questions, including the role of predators in amphibian deformities (Skelly and Benard 2010, ) and the causes of the abundance-occupancy relationship (Werner et al. 2014).

3b) ESGR Demography Study: In 2006 I initiated a capture-mark-recapture study of wood frogs and other amphibians on the E.S. George Reserve. As part of this study, my research assistants and I marked over 24,000 wood frogs from six populations and followed them through their lifespan to examine how intraspecific competition, interspecific interactions and climate contribute to phenotypic variation, individual fitness, population growth and dispersal. This provides nearly deep insight into the factors driving variation in amphibian populations, and the results can be used to inform conservation efforts. Insights from this study include learning that warmer winters reduce frog fecundity and alter larval development (Benard 2015).

3c) Testing habitat conservation models: A major threat to wildlife is habitat destruction, and many models have been developed to guide conservation. Yet tests of model predictions have been limited by the logistical and ethical concerns over destroying habitat. With funding from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD), members of my lab and I have been investigating how salamander populations respond to different types of large-scale land manipulations.