The goal of Herper of the Week is to highlight people from all walks of life who work with reptiles and amphibians and show their work to others. This week’s Herper of the Week is Caroline Dong, Ph.D candidate at Stuart-Fox lab at The University of Melbourne. She completed her Master of Science in Zoology at The University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2015 and her Bachelor of Science in Biology at Saint Louis University in 2012.
Her interest in reptiles began because she had a pet Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) as a child. This lead to a fascination with fresh water turtles, where she undertook a senior research project on Painted Turtles physiology and then went on to do her Master’s project on Asian Softshell turtle population genetics.
When it came time to start her Ph.D, she thought about what really interested her about in Painted Turtles in the first place and she realized it was the function and evolution of coloration in animals. She came across a posting for a Ph.D student to study the coloration of the Tawny Dragon and boom, she applied and moved off to Australia. Her research examines patterns of speciation and secondary contact, particularly the contribution of animal coloration to reproductive isolation and divergence in a contact zone between two distinct lineages of tawny dragon.
Her advice to future herpers is to get outdoors and observe the natural world. Simple observations in the field can lead to great research discoveries. It’s essential to understand the context in which the animal exists in the wild in order to formulate hypotheses and draw conclusions in any area of biology (e.g. ecology, genetics, behavior, etc).
You can visit her website at https://www.carolinedong.com/
You can follow her on twitter @colorfulagamids
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