Fredric V. Vencl, Research Associate Professor (CV)

Ph.D., Stony Brook University 1977

Applied ecology, conservation biology


Office: LS650

Phone:  (631)632-8600

Lab Website: Vencl Lab 


Research Summary:

Two puzzles have long fascinated me: why are there so many species, especially of beetles, and has the evolution of novel traits, or suites of traits fostered the remarkable beetle diversification. I integrate phylogenetics, behavior, morphology, and chemistry with field experimentation to investigate the evolutionary ecology of firefly and leaf beetle defenses.

I investigate several questions that explore macro-evolutionary processes and patterns: (1) how novel traits ('key innovations') impact diversification rates; (2) what factors promote the recurrent evolution of ecological specialization; (3) whether and how sexual selection fosters speciation, and; (4) whether rates and quantitative patterns of behavioral, morphological, and chemical change during lineage diversification indicate escalation, or other directional trends in evolution.

My current work concerns quantification of the importance of proximate host choice behavior governing oviposition preferences of leaf-feeding beetles. I have tried to measure the impact on progeny survival of a female's oviposition choices of host leaves that vary in requisite chemical defense precursors necessary for her progeny's survival against predators. Other projects examine whether chemically-mediated, co-evolutionary interactions between hosts, host defensive chemistry, and predators have predictably guided herbivore dietary evolution. The relationship between allometric size variation in male secondary sexual traits, and mechanisms of female trait preference in fireflies is an ongoing subject of both field and laboratory study. With colleagues, I am currently investigating whether chemical exudates released by fireflies provide protection against nocturnal enemies such as bats, ants, and toads.
I also make contributions to the natural history, taxonomy, and systematics of fireflies (Lampyridae) and of leaf beetles (Criocerinae: Chrysomelidae).


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