Research in the Sheldon Lab is focused on understanding the mechanisms underlying species distributions and applying this knowledge to predict the impacts of environmental change on biodiversity. We work in both tropical and temperate ecosystems and take advantage of natural changes found along environmental gradients to address research questions. We work with a variety of taxonomic groups, but we have a special interest in dung beetles.

Seasonality, thermal physiology, and distributions

We are interested in the impacts of environmental temperatures on physiology and distributions of organisms. We use a mix of field experiments and laboratory manipulations to understand how changes in mean and variation in temperature affect physiology, behavior, and fitness of organisms. Our work supports a more mechanistic framework linking temperature to evolutionary history and distributions.

Climate change across latitude

A major component of research in the lab is applying a mechanistic understanding of species distributions to help make predictions of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. As examples, we have created models to simulate range shifts in response to climate change for diverse groups of endotherms (birds and mammals) and ectotherms (dung beetles, frogs, lizards and snakes) from tropical and temperate regions (Sheldon et al. 2011). We found that, due to smaller elevational ranges at low latitudes tropical communities appear to be more sensitive to temperature increases compared with temperate communities. In addition, we found greater change in communities for ectotherms compared to endotherms. Our work was highlighted in the Editors’ Choice section of Science Magazine (25 November 2011:1033). We followed this work with a study using historic surveys and recent resurveys (Gibson-Reinemer et al. 2015) and showed that tropical and ectothermic communities have changed more due to climate change.


Southern Masked-weaver building a nest, South Africa.

Natural History

Natural history is the cornerstone of ecology, and thus, it is an integral part of our work. We have published on patterns of seed rain in tropical forests, phenological patterns of tropical ephiphytes, and breeding biology of butterflies and tropical birds. We support natural history work through the Yanayacu Natural History Research Group and the Natural History Network.

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