Dávalos Lab

The Dávalos Lab conducts research on extinction and survival in deep time, genetics and genomics of non-model vertebrates, and deforestation.

Liliana M. Dávalos

Liliana M. Dávalos

Professor of Conservation Biology

Stony Brook University

Principal Investigator

Liliana M. Dávalos is Professor of Conservation Biology at Stony Brook University’s Department of Ecology and Evolution. Her research interests include molecular evolution, phylogenetics, and tropical conservation.

Interests
  • Molecular Evolution
  • Phylogenetics
  • Conservation Biology
Education
  • 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)

Experience

Professor
Stony Brook University
May 2008 - Present · New York
Responsibilities include:
  • Project leadership
  • Course design, instruction & assessment
  • Service

  • Lecturer
    Open University
    January 2007 - May 2008 · Milton Keynes

    Taught evolution and researched molecular ecology

    Honors & Awards

    Middlebury College Environmental Studies Program
    Scott A. Margolin '99 Lecture in Environmental Affairs
    22 April 2021

    This annual lecture, like the Environmental Studies Program, takes an interdisciplinary approach to the natural environment and human interaction with it.

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    Human Frontier Science Program Award
    Human Frontier Science Program
    July 2019 - June 2022

    To investigate evolution and mechanisms of seasonal reversible size changes in a mammal.

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    Teaching Excellence Award
    Stony Brook University College of Arts and Sciences
    April 2016

    For outstanding teaching and true caring for students.


    Kavli Frontiers of Science Israeli-American Symposium
    Kavli Frontiers of Science
    June 2013

    Symposia bring together outstanding young scientists to discuss exciting advances and opportunities in a broad range of disciplines.

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    Meet the Lab

    Principal Investigator

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    Liliana M. Dávalos

    Professor of Conservation Biology

    Researchers

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    Tanya Lama

    NSF Rules of Life and IRACDA Postdoctoral Fellow.

    Graduate Students

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    Alexis Brown

    PhD Student.

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    Anna McPherran

    PhD Candidate and STRIDE Fellow.

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    Clara Tucker

    MA student and RA.

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    Fanny Cornejo

    IDPAS PhD candidate.

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    Kristjan Mets

    PhD Candidate.

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    Nicolette Sipperly

    PhD Candidate and Rules of Life RA.

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    Paul Donat

    PhD Candidate.

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    William R. Thomas

    PhD Candidate and HFSP RA.

    Undergraduate Students

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    Mirena Medina

    UG student.

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    Sarah Vaccaro

    UG student.

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    Trinity Chen

    UG student.

    Alumni

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    Aaron Goldberg

    Graduated (MA) Spring 2011.

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    Alessondra Bruno

    Kings Park High School, 2014.

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    Alex Lengers

    Graduated (MA) Spring 2017.

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    Amena Islam

    Graduated (BSc) Spring 2021.

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    Anne Szeto

    Graduated (BSc) Spring 2011.

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    Bhavana Patil

    Dimensions REU, 2015.

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    Bonnie Lei

    Walnut High School, 2010. Graduated Spring 2011, Harvard University 2015, currently at Microsoft.

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    Brandon Baird

    Brandon graduated (BSc) Spring 2011. Joined the CUNY Graduate Program in 2013.

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    Cameron Morales

    Sanford H. Calhoun High School, 2014.

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    Courtney Cheng

    Smithtown High School East, 2014.

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    Danny Rojas

    FCT-Portugal Postdoctoral Fellow 2013-2017. Currently faculty at Universidad Javeriana, Cali, Colombia.

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    DJ Pantino

    Graduated (BSc) Spring 2013.

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    Edward Li

    Stuyvesant High School, 2013.

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    Elise Lauterbur

    Graduated (PhD) Spring 2019. Currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Arizona.

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    Elodia Caballero

    Brentwood High School, 2012. Graduated Spring 2013 and entered Columbia University Fall 2013.

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    Emily Leung

    Graduated (BSc) Spring 2015.

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    Gabrielle Donnelly

    Smithtown High School East, 2013.

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    Genna Tudda

    Graduated (MA) Spring 2013.

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    Gregory Poterewicz

    US-FWS REU, 2013-2015.

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    Hannah Rosenthal

    Smithtown High School West, 2015. Graduated Spring 2017 and entered Cornell University Fall 2017.

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    Isabelle Loop

    Graduated (BSc) Spring 2021.

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    Jessica Semel

    Graduated (BSc) Spring 2021.

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    Johana Peña

    Brentwood High School, 2012.

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    John Navillo

    US-FWS REU, 2016.

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    Jonah Rothleder

    Graduated (BSc) Spring 2013.

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    Julie Micko

    Graduated (BSc) Spring 2021.

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    Kaitlyn Malewicz

    Undergraduate researcher, 2018-2019. Joined a PhD at Virginia Tech University.

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    Katie Martin

    Graduated (MA) Spring 2017. Joined a PhD at the University of Central Florida.

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    Kendra Cornejo

    Brentwood High School, 2010. Graduated Spring 2011 and entered Brown University Fall 2011.

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    Kenneth He

    King’s Park High School, 2015. Graduated Spring 2016.

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    Laura Barger

    Ward Melville High School, 2010. Graduated Spring 2011 and entered the University of Pennsylvania Fall 2011.

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    Laurel R. Yohe

    Graduated (PhD) Spring 2017, Dimensions postdoctoral researcher 2017-2018. Currently faculty at University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

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    Margarita Bartasunaite

    Dimensions REU, 2015.

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    Marianne S. Moore

    IRACDA Postdoctoral Fellow 2013-2015. Currently faculty at Arizona State University.

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    Marisa Lim

    Graduated (PhD) Fall 2018. Currently a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis.

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    Mark Hall

    Completed his volunteer project in 2012.

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    Melissa Zheng

    Graduated (BSc) Spring 2012.

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    Nancy Wei

    Herricks High School, 2012. Graduated Spring 2013, entered Northwestern University (biological sciences) Fall 2013.

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    Omar M. Warsi

    Graduated (PhD) Fall 2014. Currently a postdoctoral researcher at Uppsala University.

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    Peter J. Connell

    Oceanside High School, 2010. Graduated Spring 2011 and entered SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry Fall 2011.

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    Ramatu Abubakar

    Dimensions REU, 2015.

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    Romain Dahan

    Graduated (MA) Spring 2014. Joined a PhD at Arizona State University in 2014.

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    Samantha DelSerra

    Graduated (MA) Winter 2014.

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    Samantha DeRosa

    Smithtown High School West, 2014.

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    Samuel Gochman

    Half Hollow Hills High School West, 2013.

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    Sanah Afzal

    Dimensions REU, 2015.

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    Sarah Heder

    Undergraduate researcher, 2018-2019.

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    Xiaoyu Zhang

    Graduated (MA) Fall 2013.

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    Yasin Perez

    Brentwood High School, 2013-2014.

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    Yesha Shah

    Graduated (BSc) Spring 2013.

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    Zachary Rowe

    Smithtown High School East, 2012. Graduated Spring 2013, joined Stony Brook University Fall 2013.

    .js-id-current
    Global Union of Bat Diversity Networks (GBatNet)

    Global Union of Bat Diversity Networks (GBatNet)

    Data and internship opportunities available to new students. Bats play critical roles in ecosystems globally. However, key aspects of bat biology, from the causes and consequences of population declines to their ability to transmit viruses to people, remain poorly understood. This AccelNet project establishes the Global Union of Bat Diversity Networks (GBatNet) to fill key knowledge gaps and create an international structure to accelerate discoveries across disciplines and borders. The network of networks fosters new avenues for global research exchange through coordination of joint research, education, and outreach. GBatNet links 14 regional and global networks with a shared vision to address pressing questions in bat biology of direct relevance to ecosystem and human health.

    Bat goblet cells as immuno-hotspots for infection of coronavirus

    Bat goblet cells as immuno-hotspots for infection of coronavirus

    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.

    Immunological adaptations in bats to moderate the effect of coronavirus infection

    Immunological adaptations in bats to moderate the effect of coronavirus infection

    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.

    Inter-Species Modeling for Spillback/Spillover Avoidance

    Inter-Species Modeling for Spillback/Spillover Avoidance

    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.

    Regrowing the brain; evolution and mechanisms of seasonal reversible size changes in a mammal

    Regrowing the brain; evolution and mechanisms of seasonal reversible size changes in a mammal

    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.

    The death and life of biodiversity; modeling extinction and resilience on islands

    The death and life of biodiversity; modeling extinction and resilience on islands

    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.

    The Very Extended Phenotype: connecting genetics and evolution to ecological function

    The Very Extended Phenotype: connecting genetics and evolution to ecological function

    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.

    Genomics of exceptions to scaling of longevity to body size

    Genomics of exceptions to scaling of longevity to body size

    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.

    Interdisciplinary Graduate Training to Understand and Inform Decision Processes Using Advanced Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization

    Interdisciplinary Graduate Training to Understand and Inform Decision Processes Using Advanced Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization

    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).

    Chance or necessity? Adaptive vs. non adaptive evolution in plant-frugivore interactions

    Chance or necessity? Adaptive vs. non adaptive evolution in plant-frugivore interactions

    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.

    Discovering genomic and developmental mechanisms that underlie sensory innovations critical to adaptive diversification

    Discovering genomic and developmental mechanisms that underlie sensory innovations critical to adaptive diversification

    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).

    Uncovering skin immune proteins as predictors of resistance against WNS

    Uncovering skin immune proteins as predictors of resistance against WNS

    The goal of this project was to discover the mechanisms underlying the survival of remnant populations in the WNS-affected area.

    Diversification in Noctilionoid Bats

    Diversification in Noctilionoid Bats

    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.

    Historical Biogeography of the Antilles

    Historical Biogeography of the Antilles

    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.

    Forests, Coca, and Conflict: Grass Frontier Dynamics and Deforestation in the Amazon-Andes
    Forests, Coca, and Conflict: Grass Frontier Dynamics and Deforestation in the Amazon-Andes

    Population growth with weak economic development can promote tropical deforestation, but government infrastructure investment can also open new frontiers and thus increase deforestation. In the Andean region of South America, population growth has been a leading explanation for both deforestation and coca cultivation, but coca generates armed conflict and attracts counter-drug measures, obscuring the differences between population-driven and frontier-opening models of deforestation. Using a 15-year panel from Colombia, we model deforestation, coca cultivation, and conflict victims as interrelated responses with a suite of covariates encompassing land cover, land cover changes, population, population changes, counter-drug measures, and government infrastructure spending. Infrastructure spending suppresses coca, coca and eradication by aerial fumigation both increase conflict, and conflict promotes deforestation and is associated with depopulation. But the strongest predictor of deforestation is pasture growth, which covaries with coca. While these models show that infrastructure spending can help reduce coca, and coca’s influence on deforestation is indirect and mediated by conflict, the models also reveal the most important challenge to forest conservation is neither coca nor conflict, but an insatiable appetite for land that expresses itself through pasture growth.

    Ecological constraints on highly evolvable olfactory receptor genes and morphology
    Ecological constraints on highly evolvable olfactory receptor genes and morphology

    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. Phyllostomid bats, an ecologically diverse clade that evolved plant-visiting from an insectivorous ancestor, suggests the evolution of novel food detection mechanisms is a key innovation: phyllostomids behaviorally rely strongly on olfaction, while echolocation is supplemental. If this is true, exceptional variation of 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 feeding ecology. olfactory epithelial surface area, however, is greater in plant-visiting bats and there is an inverse relationship between OR evolution rates and surface area. Larger surface areas suggest greater reliance on olfactory detection and stronger ecological constraint on maintaining an already diverse OR repertoire. Instead of the typical case in which specialization and elaboration is 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 - an ecological constraint on sensory evolution.

    Nectar-Feeding Bats and Birds Show Parallel Molecular Adaptations in Sugar Metabolism Enzymes
    Nectar-Feeding Bats and Birds Show Parallel Molecular Adaptations in Sugar Metabolism Enzymes

    In most vertebrates, the demand for glucose as the primary substrate for cellular respiration is met by the breakdown of complex carbohydrates, or energy is obtained by protein and lipid catabolism. In contrast, a few bat and bird species have convergently evolved to subsist on nectar, a sugar-rich mixture of glucose, fructose, and sucrose. How these nectar-feeders have adapted to cope with life-long high sugar intake while avoiding the onset of metabolic syndrome and diabetes is not understood. We analyzed gene sequences obtained from 127 taxa, including 22 nectar-feeding bat and bird genera that collectively encompass four independent origins of nectarivory. We show these divergent taxa have undergone pervasive molecular adaptation in sugar catabolism pathways, including parallel selection in key glycolytic and fructolytic enzymes. We also uncover convergent amino acid substitutions in the otherwise evolutionarily conserved aldolase B (ALDOB), which catalyzes rate-limiting steps in fructolysis and glycolysis, and the mitochondrial gatekeeper pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH), which links glycolysis and the tricarboxylic acid cycle. Metabolomic profile and enzyme functional assays are consistent with increased respiratory flux in nectar-feeding bats and help explain how these taxa can both sustain hovering flight and efficiently clear simple sugars. Taken together, our results indicate that nectar-feeding bats and birds have undergone metabolic adaptations that have enabled them to exploit a unique energy-rich dietary niche among vertebrates.

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