We focus on biodiversity and conserving the world’s life support systems into the future. In our research, we use genetics, genomics, and statistical tools to discover mechanisms of extinction and survival.
Alongside other experts from the Science Panel for the Amazon and industry, PI Dávalos spoke at the United Nations General Assembly side event on The Amazon as a Bioeconomy Superpower: Investing in Innovation and Technology for Sustainable Development which highlighted sustainable options for regional economic growth.
Nicolette Sipperly co-organized and presented at the Botany 2022 Workshop Science, Art, and You which enabled participants to tap into the creative process of science through art.
Liliana M. Dávalos is Professor of Conservation Biology at Stony Brook University’s Department of Ecology and Evolution. Centered on biodiversity, her research applies a range of molecular and quantitative tools ranging from molecular evolution to spatial statistics.
PhD in Ecology, Evolution,and Environmental Biology, 2004
Columbia University (New York, New York)
Certificate in Environmental Policy Studies, 2001
Columbia University (New York, New York)
BSc in Biology (emphasis on Genetics), 1997
Universidad del Valle (Cali, Colombia)
2022 Celebration of Teaching Awards.Watch video
This annual lecture, like the Environmental Studies Program, takes an interdisciplinary approach to the natural environment and human interaction with it.Watch video
To investigate evolution and mechanisms of seasonal reversible size changes in a mammal.See notice
For outstanding teaching and true caring for students.
Symposia bring together outstanding young scientists to discuss exciting advances and opportunities in a broad range of disciplines.See profile
In nature, encounters between humans and wildlife correlate with greater viral burdens in wildlife and therefore with higher risk of new viral pathogens spilling over into human populations. Yet, the factors contributing to this risk remain poorly understood, especially among highly mobile, but tightly packed populations of animals, such as cave-dwelling bats. Using the Egyptian fruitbat as a study system, this project seeks to understand how factors such as access to food, overall animal health, and responses to immune challenges influence each other in the wild to control the degree of viral infection in populations experiencing variable exposure to humans. The project will use highly integrative approaches to illuminate the fundamental biology of disease risk and to enhance the capacity to predict risks of viral spillover from bats to other wildlife or to humans. The project will also have broader impact on education and training by implementing an innovative active-learning experience, called “From the Bat Cave – Integrative Disease Research for Undergraduates”, in which postdoctoral researchers will learn to apply integrative research and mentoring methods to involve cohorts of undergraduate students in research and peer-peer mentoring through GBatNet, a NSF-funded international network of bat research groups.
Data available to new students. Why are bats so likely to carry coronaviruses, yet seem little affected by them? Many studies have focused on their immune system, but there is much to learn about the cells viruses attack upon entry.
Data available to new students. All aspects of society have been upended by COVID-19. While most research has understandably focused on clinical applications, how the ancestors of SARS-CoV2 survive and circulate in nature is vital to both prevent future epidemics and help health professionals develop therapeutic treatments.
In support of RA Kristjan Mets. While scientific reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has been swift, the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spilling back into native North American wildlife and feral domestic animals remains underexplored. Experimental infections of a variety of hosts, serological analyses of the cats in Wuhan, and cases of COVID-19 among tigers and lions in the Bronx Zoo, all have shown transmission back to wildlife and feral cats is highly probable. Tools are urgently needed to determine which of these animal populations are at greatest risk of establishing a native reservoir, and where the overlap with human populations is greatest. We propose to model the risk of spillover to animal populations and conversely the risk of future secondary spillover by combining models of molecular interaction between the virus and potential hosts, with multi- species Susceptible-Infectious-Recovered (SIR) models. Complementing decades of experience in vertebrate genomics (Dávalos) with expertise in epidemiology (Meliker), and spatial dynamics of wildlife disease (Mets), ours is the ideal team to quickly generate and test the necessary models to avert this risk.
To answer the question of how the shrew shrinks and then regrows its brain, we will establish this unusual species as a new model, by studying the biological, molecular, biochemical and genetic processes behind this reversible size change.
Data available for new students. We assembled a group of socio-environmental scientists to analyze and model the natural and human factors that determine the extinction and resilience of insular vertebrate fauna and leverage this understanding into metrics for use in conservation assessments.
We propose to develop a cross-scale research program that focuses on the relationships between phylogenetic diversity, genetic diversity and functional diversity of a biologically and economically important taxonomic group; bats.
Data available to new students. This project focuses on pairs of closely related bat species that sharply differ in their longevity. Detailed genome comparisons between closely related species with different life spans will test different theories of aging.
This training program responds to the challenges of new careers at the interface between science and decision making with an interdisciplinary set of new courses and a suite of activities united by the theme of “Scientific Training and Research to Inform DEcisions” (STRIDE).
Data available to new students. The project focuses on a relatively unexplored yet crucial aspect of plant-animal mutualisms; volatile chemical communication between plants and vertebrate frugivores.
Data available to new students. This project focuses on a diverse group of tropical bats in which various species evolved acute, specialized hearing, supersensitive eyes, the ability to smell subtle plant chemicals, or highly developed vomeronasal systems (thought to contribute to mating and social hierarchy).
The goal of this project was to discover the mechanisms underlying the survival of remnant populations in the WNS-affected area.
Noctilionoid bats comprise more than 200 species that span the entire ecological diversity of land mammals. They range from tiny insectivores and nectarivores to large carnivores, and even vampire bats. This is an unparalleled system for understanding how, when, and where bats evolved new diets, changed roosting habits and developed different kinds of echolocation. Together with the N. B. Simmons Lab, we are generating species-level phylogenies using molecular and morphological data, and including fossils of >20 extinct species. These phylogenies provide frameworks for investigating patterns and processes of ecological adaptation, speciation, and extinction across a hyperdiverse group of mammals.
The project will generate hypotheses about the evolutionary relationships of 5 different groups of bats, each containing at least one exclusively Antillean species. These evolutionary relationships will then be used to establish the timing and pattern of separation among bat species in the Antilles and their South and Central American relatives, and will also be compared with similar hypotheses about other terrestrial organisms. Drs. Nancy Simmons, Rob DeSalle, and Liliana Davalos will use standard methods for obtaining and analyzing morphological and molecular data from the study groups. Patterns of evolutionary relationships resulting from these data will be compared applying at least 5 different approaches.
Understanding variation of traits within and among species through time and across space is central to many questions in biology. Many resources assemble species-level trait data, but the data and metadata underlying those trait measurements are often not reported. Here, we introduce FuTRES (Functional Trait Resource for Environmental Studies; pronounced few- tress), an online datastore and community resource for individual-level trait reporting that utilizes a semantic framework. FuTRES already stores millions of trait measurements for paleobiological, zooarchaeological, and modern specimens, with a current focus on mammals. We compare dynamically-derived extant mammal species’ body size measurements in FuTRES with summary values from other compilations, highlighting potential issues with simply reporting a single mean estimate. We then show that individual-level data improves estimates of body mass – including uncertainty – for zooarchaeological specimens. FuTRES facilitates trait data integration and discoverability, accelerating new research agendas, especially scaling from intra- to interspecific trait variability.
While evolvability of genes and traits may promote specialization during species diversification, how ecology subsequently restricts such variation remains unclear. Chemosensation requires animals to decipher a complex chemical background to locate fitness-related resources, and thus the underlying genomic architecture and morphology must cope with constant exposure to a changing odorant landscape; detecting adaptation amidst extensive chemosensory diversity is an open challenge. In phyllostomid bats, an ecologically diverse clade that evolved plant-visiting from an insectivorous ancestor, the evolution of novel food detection mechanisms is suggested to be a key innovation, as plant-visiting species rely strongly on olfaction, supplementarily using echolocation. If this is true, exceptional variation in underlying olfactory genes and phenotypes may have preceded dietary diversification. We compared olfactory receptor (OR) genes sequenced from olfactory epithelium transcriptomes and olfactory epithelium surface area of bats with differing diets. Surprisingly, although OR evolution rates were quite variable and generally high, they are largely independent of diet. Olfactory epithelial surface area, however, is relatively larger in plant-visiting bats and there is an inverse relationship between OR evolution rates and surface area. Relatively larger surface areas suggest greater reliance on olfactory detection and stronger constraint on maintaining an already diverse OR repertoire. Instead of the typical case in which specialization and elaboration are coupled with rapid diversification of associated genes, here the relevant genes are already evolving so quickly that increased reliance on smell has led to stabilizing selection, presumably to maintain the ability to consistently discriminate among specific odorants — a potential ecological constraint on sensory evolution.
Madagascar’s biota has suffered recent extinctions and many of its unique species are threatened. However, the severity of recent and potential extinctions in a global evolutionary context is unquantified. We compiled a phylogenetic dataset for the complete non-marine mammalian biota of Madagascar and estimated natural rates of extinction, colonization, and speciation. We measured how long it would take to restore Madagascar’s mammalian biodiversity under these rates, the “evolutionary return time” (ERT). We show the loss of currently threatened Malagasy mammal species would have a much deeper long-term impact than all the extinctions since human arrival to the island. A return from current to pre-human diversity would take 1.6 million years (Myr) for bats, and 2.9 Myr for non-volant mammals. However, if species currently classified as threatened go extinct, the ERT rises to 2.9 Myr for bats and 23 Myr for non-volant mammals. The evolutionary history currently under threat on Madagascar is much greater than on other islands, suggesting an extinction wave with deep evolutionary impact is imminent unless immediate conservation actions are taken.