The thrill of discovery is the force driving research in The Watson Laboratory. We use standard field research techniques, museum collection data, GIS technology, and controlled laboratory experiments to address such diverse topics as the evolution of viviparity and the fitness benefits of aposematism in lizards. We typically use lizards as subjects of investigation, but the lab is not taxonomically limited.
This line of research hopes to reveal candidate selective pressures that led to the evolution of viviparity in a group of organisms who may be experiencing a global collapse in diversity (high-elevation squamates) and may provide clues to the adaptive significance of this trait in other groups, such as mammals. The currently accepted hypothesis, The Cold Climate Hypothesis, posits that cold temperatures constitute the primary selective pressure favoring live birth but our research show that it may be more complex than that. We are currently collaborating with The Burggren Lab at UNT, The Cox Lab at Georgia Southern University, and various labs at UAEMex to better understand this phenomenon.
Watson, C.M., R. Makowsky, & J. C. Bagley. 2014. Reproductive mode evolution in lizards revisited: updated analyses examining geographic, climatic and phylogenetic effects support the cold-climate hypothesis. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 27 (12), 2767-2780
The Watson Lab routinely incorporates physiological and ecological data to gain a better understanding of the interactions of populations or species with one another and/or the environment. This research is applicable to timely topics like Global Climate Change and Species Invasions. Current research in Dominica, a collaboration with Operation Wallacea, is documenting the effects that a recent invasion of a second Anolis species has on the thermal physiology of the native endemic Anole. We are also investigating plant/animal interactions using caterpillars that eat toxic plants. We use milkweed/monarch butterflies and tobacco/tobacco hornworms to investigate the effects that the animals have on the plants and the reaction of the plants to being fed upon. This line of research ties directly to the Anti-Predation Mechanisms and Conservation/Wildlife Biology emphases discussed below.
Watson, C.M. & W.W. Burggren. 2016. Interspecific Differences in Metabolic Rate and Metabolic Temperature Sensitivity Create Distinct Thermal Ecological Niches in Lizards (Plestiodon). PLoS One
Watson, C.M. & L. Gough. 2012. The role of temperature in determining distributions and coexistence of three species of Plestiodon. Journal of Thermal Biology 37(5) 374-379.
Watson, C.M. & D. R. Formanowicz. 2012. A Comparison of Maximum Sprint Speed Among the Five-lined Skinks (Plestiodon) of the Southeastern United States at Ecologically Relevant Temperatures. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 7(1) 75-82.
We are primarily interested in the evolution and adaptive significance of anti-predation coloration in lizards. Working closely with The Cox Lab at Georgia Southern University, we are exploring evolutionary patterns of conspicuous tail coloration as a decoy to divert avian attacks to the atutotomous tail. Our milkweed/monarch butterfly research also has implications in this field because monarchs use toxins derived from the milkweed as a chemical defense against would-be predators and they have a distinct color and pattern that is mimicked by other non-toxic species.
Watson, C.M., C. Roelke, P. Pasichnyk, & C. Cox. 2012. The fitness consequences of the autotomous blue tail in lizards: An empirical test of predator response using clay models. Zoology 115(5) 339-344
P.I. Watson's background in Zoo Herpetology and Wildlife Biology is evident in the research performed in The Watson Laboratory. We maintain a research collection which offers husbandry experience to both graduates and undergraduates and allows us to perform controlled physiological laboratory experiments. Many of the aforementioned projects, such as the evolution of viviparity and the Milkweed/Monarch Butterfly have a tie to conservation and wildlife biology. We are actively engaged in Horned Lizard conservation and research in collaboration with The Williams Lab at TCU.
Watson, C.M. 2009. Selection of available post-fire substrate by Scincella lateralis Say (Ground Skink). The Texas Journal of Science 61(3) 219-224.
Watson, C.M. and M. L. Nicholson. 2011 (Published 2014). The recovery of the macroarthropod community within the leaf-litter of an East Texas mixed hardwood-pine habitat following a prescribed burn. The Texas Journal of Science 64(1)