Term of Award

Summer 2016

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (M.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Biology

Committee Chair

Zachary Stahlschmidt

Committee Member 1

Checo Colon-Gaud

Committee Member 2

Lance McBrayer

Committee Member 3

Ray Chandler


Animal behavior is influence by a wide range of factors. One factor that can heavily influence behavior is the presence or absence of refuge (i.e., refuge provides a direct benefit to animals’ fitness). Many animals seek refuge to avoid predation despite clear costs to other life processes. The decision to use refuge is complex and anthropogenic activities may alter the abundance of refuge. Artificial refuge structures can be successful in conservation efforts and are an effective means to measure biodiversity. Thus, I used cover boards to examine how habitat structure and season influence vertebrate abundance and diversity in the southeastern U.S. Vertebrate abundance was driven by proximity to roads where abundance was higher at sites that were further from roads. Season influenced the diversity of vertebrate classes where diversity was greater in the summer than in the fall and winter. My results provide evidence that anthropogenic, biotic, and temporal factors can influence vertebrate abundance and biodiversity. In addition to temporal and spatial factors, biotic factors can influence refuge use. These factors can create tradeoffs that are well-studied in some contexts of life history evolution. One such tradeoff that affects refuge use is the thermoregulation-predator avoidance tradeoff. This tradeoff may be plastic in response to environmental conditions such as pathogen exposure. Thus, I examined the dynamics of a thermoregulation-predator avoidance tradeoff using the cornsnake (Pantherophis guttatus) in a controlled lab setting. Immune activation did not elicit behavioral fever or change shelter use when shelter was available across the entire thermal gradient. Although snakes strongly prioritized shelter use, their prioritization shifted during immune challenge. Snakes injected with LPS that were forced to choose between preferred temperature and shelter use maintained thermoregulation, but they spent up to 9-fold more time exposed relative to when they were injected with saline. These results demonstrate the plasticity of the widespread tradeoff between thermoregulation and shelter use.

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