Research in the Physiological Ecology of Reptiles Lab (PERL) at Cal Poly focuses on the environmental physiology of reptiles. We believe that experimental manipulations performed on free-ranging animals in the field are the most powerful way to answer questions about the interaction between animals’ bodies and the environment. Lab work is also often performed to isolate and test specific environmental variables.
The main two study organisms are the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus) or Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (C. o. helleri), depending on which field site we are currently using, and the Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis). These are the most common and accessible reptiles on the California central coast, making them ideal organisms for collecting large amounts of data. Other projects on tropical snakes and lizards occur when time, funding, and student interest converge.
Dr. Taylor’s primary research expertise is in the areas of endocrinology and reproductive physiology, but PERL projects often extend into many other areas. Past research projects have ranged from hormonal regulation of reproduction to neuroanatomy to host-parasite interactions (see Publications).
Current research in PERL focuses on two main projects:
- How androgens and glucocorticoids affect the physiology and behavior of free-ranging rattlesnakes. We use radio-telemetry combined with techniques to add exogenous hormone to monitor the effects of hormones in the field, where snakes are free to behave, thermoregulate, and otherwise live as they choose. This allows us to observe both direct and indirect effects of hormones on variables like home range size, body temperature, defensive behaviors, venom biochemistry, and more.
- Mechanisms that underlie the critical thermal maximum in lizards. Despite decades of research and dozens of papers, scientists still don’t know exactly why an ecotherm loses control of its bodily functions when heated beyond a certain temperature. Given that global climate change projections could push many lizard populations past their critical thermal maxima, understanding these mechanisms is of key importance. We are committed to better controlling variables such as heating rate and acclimatization to laboratory conditions, while developing advanced equipment to alter environmental conditions and observe the effects of the lizards’ thermal biology.
Students interested in conducting research in PERL as undergraduates or as Master’s students can find more information here.