I am interested in predator-prey interactions and chemical ecology. Natural selection can be particularly powerful in these life-or-death struggles, and I am fascinated by the variety of venoms and poisons that have evolved, as well as by the corresponding physiological and behavioral counter-adaptations to this wicked weaponry.
I study the blue-ring octopus and its mantis shrimp predators and prey, as well as a poisonous salamander common on the California coast and its toxin-resistant garter snake predator. Both the salamander and the octopus have the deadly neurotoxin tetrodotoxin (TTX).
Because TTX is a complex molecule and occurs in a variety of unrelated taxa, such as octopuses, newts, frogs, pufferfish, crabs, and starfish, the hypothesis is that TTX is unlikely to evolve by convergent evolution and is instead produced by symbiotic bacteria or accumulated from the diet. I am currently examining this proposition in the octopuses, so my focus on chemistry and toxicology has taken me from herpetology, to malacology, to bacterial genetics! Who knows what the future holds?