Fredric V. Vencl, Research Associate Professor (
Ph.D., Stony Brook University 1977
Applied ecology, conservation biology
Lab Website: Vencl Lab
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).