It’s really nice to be able to present yet another new Oikos Subject Editor:
Shawn Wilder, University of Sidney, Australia.
1. What’s you main research focus at the moment?
My main research focus now is examining the nutritional requirements of spiders and comparing these requirements to the distribution of nutrients in prey to better understand how diet regulation behavior by predators affects the structure and function of ecological communities. Recent work has shown that the nutrient content of prey can have large effects on the growth and reproduction of predators and that some predators will tightly regulate their diet. I’ve been using the geometric framework of nutrition to quantify the nutrient requirements of a spider (redback spider, Latrodectus hasselti) and have measured the nutrient content of over 500 species of arthropods. Future experiments and modeling work will combine this information to predict which prey or combinations of prey may be preferred by predators and how these prey preferences may affect prey populations and community dynamics.
2. Can you describe you research career? Where, what, when?
My career began by helping with fieldwork on charismatic megafauna. During undergrad, I was a field assistant on large-scale studies that captured, radio-collared, and tracked black sea turtles in the Gulf of California and, the next summer, black bears in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The fieldwork experiences were amazing and motivated me to go to graduate school to become an ecologist.
For my M.S. at Miami University, Ohio I move to a smaller and more manageable study species, white-footed mice, and examined how fragmentation of their forest habitat due to agriculture affected their population dynamics. However, in the lab next door, friends of mine were studying the behavioral ecology of wolf spiders, including chemical communication, predator-prey interactions and mating behavior. I soon became very interested in spiders and began my Ph.D. studying the ecology and evolution of sexual cannibalism. I was interested in understanding why cannibalism was frequent in some species but rare in others. Female hunger had an obvious and large role in predicting cannibalism but my work also suggested that nutrition may be important.
I then moved to Texas A&M University for a postdoc to study the role of food-for-protection mutualisms in facilitating the invasive success of red imported fire ants, Solenopsis invicta, in the Southern USA. Due to differences in competitor communities, fire ants have greater access to mutualisms in their introduced range in the USA than their native range in Argentina. As a consequence, fire ants in the USA consume more carbohydrates than fire ants in Argentina and these carbohydrates significantly increase fire ant colony growth even when insect prey are available ad libitum.
I continued with my interest in nutrition by moving to the University of Sydney to study the nutritional ecology of carnivores with Steve Simpson. I’ve since been promoted to Lecturer and received an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award. Australia has an exciting diversity of insects and spiders and I’m looking forward to exploring and studying them further.
3. How come that you became a scientist in ecology?
My interest in ecology and nature developed at a young age. I grew up in the Northeastern USA and my family spent a lot of time camping, hiking, and fishing when I was young. I also spent a lot of time flipping over rocks and searching in tide pools for insects, spiders, salamanders and crabs. I would even occasionally feed the spiders that lived in the backyard. Fortunately, my parents were very encouraging.
4. What do you do when you’re not working?
I enjoy camping, hiking, kayaking, and fishing. Sydney has been a great place both for work and fun. Although it’s a big city, it is surrounded by National Parks that are easily accessible and have a lot of beautiful trails through rainforests, mountains, and cliffs overlooking the ocean.
I also enjoy traveling both for research and fun. Some of my recent highlights for research trips include traveling around northern Argentina studying ants and traveling to the Northern Territory of Australia to study araneophagic jumping spiders. I’ve also recently traveled to Thailand and South Korea, both of which were a lot of fun.
Own website: https://sites.google.com/site/shawnmwilder/