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Research at the Ecological Research Center Research

Research activities have centered on both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Projects have involved numerous investigators who have focused on many areas of science (e.g. Wildlife Ecology, Conservation, Aquaculture, Physiological Ecology, Behavioral Ecology, Reproductive Biology, Ecological Genetics, Biogeography, and Systematics).

Investigators have contributed regionally and nationally to the understanding and solution of ecological issues. Regional contributions have included works that focus on understanding the biodiversity of the area and the impact of proposed activities on the quality of life within the area.

Examples include research in aquaculture (hormonal/environmental control of reproduction, stress physiology, and water quality), assessments of rare and endangered plants and animals at several sites, assessment of plants and vertebrate animals on a proposed coal gasification site in southwestern Memphis, survey of significant biota within the surroundings of a sewage treatment plant in Memphis, development of a checklist for mammals, streams surveys at a national park in the region, and a survey of mammals within the Cumberland River Drainage Basin of Tennessee.

Contributions at the national and international level are demonstrated by the publication of work in prestigious scientific journals, such as Journal of Wildlife Management, Wildlife Society Bulletin, Journal of Mammalogy, Ecology, Animal Behavior, Genetica, Systematic Zoology, Journal of Parasitology, Copeia, Aquaculture, Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, General and Comparative Endocrinology, Physiological Zoology, Auk, Ethology, and Heredity. Additionally, information derived from these works have been presented at scientific meetings in many different parts of the world as well as discussed in numerous newspaper articles, magazines, and other popular media.


Ongoing research programs of the ERC can be divided into three main categories: Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Biology, Physiological Ecology, and Theoretical Behavioral and Evolutionary Ecology. These programs draw from numerous faculty in Biology and other departments.

The research objectives in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Biology are varied and include:

  1. understanding the role and impact of "mesopredators" (e.g., raccoons and opossums) in their ecosystem and their impact on nesting northern bobwhites,
  2. improving management practices to provide more food resources for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds
  3. investigating the feasibility of restoring canebrake habitat, which was once a major feature of the Mid-South landscape,
  4. evaluating the role of macrophyes in cycling of nutrients and contaminants in aquatic systems,
  5. monitoring deer populations in collaboration with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
  6. identification and distribution of mammalian biodiversity in Tennessee,
  7. understanding landscape-level effects on biodiversity, and
  8. evaluating the effects of urbanization on ecosystems..

Research in Physiological Ecology addresses numerous issues involving a variety of organisms. Examples of such research efforts include:

  1. understanding the physiological effects of natural and anthropogenic factors (such as flooding) on plant survival, productivity, and distribution,
  2. evaluating the effects of salt water intrusion on plant systems in the Gulf of Mexico,
  3. identifying the influences of environmental conditions on nest emergence in hatchling turtles and embryological development in a variety of vertebrates,
  4. identifying environmental influences on digestive efficiency and feeding in snakes and crocodilians,
  5. identification of the nature of behavioral and environmental cues used by birds to time reproduction and how this is influenced by nutrient status,
  6. determining the role of environmental influences and hormones such as melatonin on the regulation of seasonal cycles in mammals,
  7. determining factors that limit growth and reproduction of channel catfish in aquaculture, and
  8. assessing the influence of predators on foraging and vigilance behavior of elk in western national parks.

Ongoing studies in Theoretical Ecology Behavioral and Evolutionary Ecology include understanding

  1. the dynamics of mating strategies in small mammals,
  2. the role of hybridization in the survival of amphibians, and the response of bottomland tree species to changes in flooding regimes,
  3. the impact of chromosomal integrity and ploidy on organisms and natural populations, and
  4. the role of enzymes and blood proteins in the population dynamics of cotton boll weevils, kangaroo rats, crayfish, fish and amphibian populations.

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Last Updated: 1/9/13