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Biology professor publishes book on red-backed salamanders

Nancy Kohn, visiting assistant professor of biology, recently published a book titled "Behavioral Ecology of the Eastern Red-backed Salamander."

Co-written by Robert G. Jaeger, Birgit Gollmann, Carl D. Anthony and Caitlin R. Gabor, the book contains 50 years of research on the behavioral ecology of eastern red-backed salamanders.

“The book covers the research of Robert Jaeger,” Kohn said.

“It’s pretty much everyone involved in his research along the way. It starts when [Jaeger] was in grad school and finishes with me—I was the last of his students. It spans research all the way back to the 60s.”

A comprehensive overview of the five coauthors’ research, the book outlines findings on intra- and interspecific competition, aggression, cognition, reproductive tactics, foraging strategies and territoriality of eastern red-backed salamanders in the forest and in the laboratory.

Kohn’s contribution focused on cognitive ecology, specifically learning and memory.

“During my research, I found that most of the salamanders were territorial,” Kohn said.

“I discovered that they were less aggressive toward familiar individuals than unfamiliar ones. There’s memory involved with knowing who is familiar. I know who you are, and you know who I am, so we don’t need to be aggressive.”

Kohn also researched visual cues, using a visual chamber that allowed the salamanders to see each other without detecting each other chemically.

“The herpetologist thought I was nuts to use visual cues in a salamander,” Kohn said.

“But I thought, 'I’m using visual cues to differentiate between the salamanders in my dish. Surely they use as many cues as possible and combine sensory modulation.'”

Kohn is currently working on research into learning and memory in fruit flies and completing outstanding post-doctorate papers.

"Behavioral Ecology of the Eastern Red-backed Salamander" is available for purchase online at oup.com/us and amazon.com.

Posted by Alexandra Patrono-Smith at 2:25 PM