The Dwarf Reptile Project.
How to get SMAL: Using insular dwarfism to to understand Shared Molecular mechanisms Across Life history traits.
Channel Islands, California
WHO WE ARE
We are a collaborative research team from Auburn University, Westmont College, and Penn State University
Our team is composed of experts in a range of fields, including ecology, physiology, molecular biology, genomics, evolutionary biology, education and conservation.
The initiation of the SMAL project was made possible by a collaborative National Science Foundation, Integrative and Organismal Systems Grant funded in 2023.
Our Research Mission
Many human and animal traits are complex such that they are defined by both the environment and many genes. Such traits include body size and age of reproductive maturity. The molecular mechanisms that determine these complex traits in natural populations are not well understood.
The goal of this research is to understand the mechanisms regulating complex traits, how they are altered in natural populations, and what aspects of these mechanisms are shared across species. This project uses the power of a natural experiment where animals isolated on islands have become small with altered reproduction similar to animals under selective breeding, such as dogs, cattle, and chickens.
The findings from this research will improve our general understanding of how genes and environment determine complex traits, and more specifically will identify mechanisms regulating body size and reproduction in natural populations that are shared across animal species.
OUR RESEARCH AREAS
From measuring animals in the field to measuring changes in their genomes, cells, and hormone physiology in the lab, we are developing new tools to identify mechanisms that alter the body size and reproduction in natural populations.
The Study System
The "Island Rule" is a worldwide phenomenon of rapid body size evolution on islands. On the Channel Islands off the coast of California three species of reptiles have evolved to have smaller body size relative to the mainland populations. We are using the repeated evolution of small body size and correlated traits to understand how molecular networks (genes, hormone regulation, etc) underlying complex traits can evolve. These molecular data are integrated with estimates of reproductive output obtained through advanced field-portable ultrasound technology which can inform us about the life-history evolution of these species as well allow us to extend our understanding of the process of convergent evolution in correlated life-history traits.
In addition to our basic research, we also have multiple training and education initiatives. From training undergraduate and graduate researchers to conduct research, to working with high school teachers to develop science-based teaching modules, we are dedicated to the scientific education of the public as well as training of the next generation of scientists.
We believe that collaboration is key to achieving scientific progress. That's why we partner with a wide range of institutions and organizations to achieve our research and educational goals
SMAL Project In Numbers
Students in training
We are looking for a highly motivated Postdoctoral Fellow to join our team and help lead the common garden reptile cell culture experiments, or functional and population genomics, and if interested helping lead the field research teams on mainland California and/or Channel Islands