Megan S. Candelaria
Topics for the Classroom:
Herpetology (Lizards Alive!)
Survival Strategies for Extremes (Plants & Animals)
Education:B.A. in Political Science, from Yale University, 2002M.E.Sc. in Environmental Science from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 2006M.S. in Zoology from the National University of Ireland, Galway, 2010.
I am studying the potential sensitivity of greater short-horned lizards (Phrynosoma hernandesi) to land cover disturbance in Wyoming. Horned lizards are visually-distinct reptiles popularly known as “horny toads,” and have highly specialized morphology, physiology, and behavior. The 13 horned lizard species in western North America have little overlap in range and differ in habitat associations, but they all share a variety of these specialized traits. Highly specialized organisms, those that are tied to specific resources, are more likely to be impacted by the loss of a particular host plant, favored prey, or required soil type than generalists with alternative resource options would be. Rapid development of extractive industry operation in Wyoming is causing habitat change at a variety of scales that could put specialized organisms greatly at risk. I am exploring which traits are most limiting to horned lizards, how specialization varies between populations, and which traits most strongly determine lizard response to disturbance. One of the most striking specialist traits in these lizards is that they prey almost exclusively on ants. To explore how prey source reliability affects dietary specialization, I am investigating the spatial pattern of large ant mounds in horned lizard habitat.
One of my great joys as a child was collecting tadpoles and raising them in jars in the kitchen. Fortunately, my parents were supportive and always helped me to return the frogs to their home pond. These early experiences were so influential that I conducted master’s research on frog habitat ecology and then moved to Ireland to study “frogs in the bogs.” For my PhD work I have shifted from amphibians to reptiles and am currently studying horned lizards. Though these lizards are commonly known as “horny toads,” they are actually lizards, not toads! One of my long-term goals as an ecologist and an educator is to develop an alternative outdoor education and scientific research program in conjunction with a research station where students of all ages come to learn and participate in research projects for varying lengths of time. Ideally, this program would include visual art, music, and writing as part of the scientific learning process. My belief is that a diversified mind is a creative mind, and that the best scientific ideas come from unconventional perspectives and approaches. I am delighted to be part of the Science Posse and can’t wait to meet teachers and students throughout Wyoming!