I have a strong background in molecular ecology and evolution. In general, my main research interests are the development and evolution of phenotypic and behavioral traits using integrative approaches. More in detail, I am interested in the convergent evolution of aposematism in frogs and salamanders, especially on their alkaloid processing. Currently, I investigate whether there is a direct link between alkaloid consumption and behaviors such as feeding and aggressive behaviors in poison frogs.
Doctor of Science, Technische Universitat Braunschweig (2018)
Licenciatura, Universidad Simon Bolivar (2013)
Lauren O'Connell, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Current Research and Scholarly Interests
I am currently working with tadpoles and frogs to identify areas of their brains differentially activated upon alkaloid consumption across developmental stages.
Dietary tuning of poison frog tadpole behavior and development, Stanford University (March 1, 2019 - Present)
Animal behaviors are coordinated by the central nervous system and are influenced by early life diet. Poison frogs are toxic due to alkaloids they are able to uptake from the diet and sequester, and this toxicity correlates to their conspicuous coloration, known as aposematism. In a dendrobatid poison frog, Ranitomeya imitator, tadpoles are fed by their mothers, who periodically deposit alkaloid-containing unfertilized eggs for their consumption. With the aim to investigate how feeding frequency and alkaloid consumption influence the development and behavior of poison frogs, here I propose: first, to conduct behavioral assays coupled to 3D immunohistochemistry (iDISCO) to identify differences in the neural circuitry for begging and aggressive behaviors in tadpoles under a control treatment, a fasting treatment (fed the same quantity but less frequently) and an alkaloid treatment (fed the same quantity and frequency but adding the alkaloid trans-Decahydroquinoline); second, to evaluate how these treatments affect tadpoles’ metabolic rate and development, and if they have a carry-over effect on the juvenile metabolic rate and behavior; and third, to test if the intensity of these behaviors in juveniles is correlated to the expression of pertinent neuropeptides and receptors in the hypothalamus. This work will set a baseline to study the evolution of parental care in poison frogs and will pioneer in setting a neural and molecular basis to investigate the evolution of aposematism and aposematic behavior.