Chris Schell’s interests lie in the various dynamics that exist between parents and offspring. More specifically, he is fascinated by the impacts that non-genetic factors of parental care can have on offspring development. These factors are often referred to as parental effects, where the parent’s traits can have long-term fitness consequences for offspring. Some of these influences include food provisioning, guarding behavior, and even fluctuations in hormones during pregnancy. Maternal effects have been studied in great detail for a large variety of taxa. However, there are fewer examples of biparental effects and their impact on offspring.
Chris’ dissertation research focuses on these biparental effects in coyotes (Canis latrans) and how both parental behavior and endocrinology shape similar offspring traits. These crepuscular, mid-sized canids have pups annually and both parents spend several months nurturing young. Maturing pups quickly establish hierarchies among siblings, suggestive that several individual pup temperament traits (e.g., boldness and aggression) are fostered during development. Chris studies coyotes at the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) Predator Research Facility in Millville, UT. At this USDA regulated site, captive coyotes are maintained in breeding pairs with minimal human interaction.
Chris will test whether the degree of parental care differs between parents, and if so do these differences have varying effects on pups within a litter. Additionally, he will test whether hormonal and behavioral fluctuations during pregnancy have any long-term influences on offspring temperament. If such parental factors can influence pup phenotype, then adult offspring may confer the same benefits to their young. If this process continues, parental effects may have long-term consequences for a population. This is an intriguing concept when considering the lens of urban coyotes. Here, parental effects may provide both proximate and ultimate explanations as to how coyotes persist long-term in non-native habitats. When his research is completed, Chris will have a better understanding of the multidimensional influences that parents place on developing coyote pups.
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