My research uses genetic and ecological data to examine questions related to phylogenetics, speciation, and the evolution of the climatic niche. I work with plethodontid salamanders to address these questions at multiple taxonomic scales. I have done extensive laboratory and field work, collecting DNA sequence, microsatellite, and microhabitat data.

Plethodon cinereus

Past Projects

Speciation, ecological divergence, and phylogeny in plethodontid salamanders: My dissertation research

My dissertation research includes the first study to explicitly examine how mitochondrial and nuclear DNA interact in concatenated phylogenetic analyses (Fisher-Reid and Wiens 2011) and the first study to examine the relationship between climatic-niche breadth and the rate of climatic-niche evolution (Fisher-Reid et al. 2012). Additionally, I closely examined a novel case of parapatric separation of sympatric ecotypes along an environmental gradient in the eastern red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus (Fisher-Reid et al. 2013).

Color polymorphism across genus Plethodon

Red/lead (striped/unstriped) color polymorphism occurs in at least 8 species of Plethodon, and there are also a handful of monomorphic (only red or only lead) Plethodon species. Given the work done in P. cinereus which suggests that the two color morphs have differing environmental preferences (suggesting different physiology; e.g., Lotter and Scott 1977, Moreno 1989, Anthony et al. 2008), that, in at least one case, appears to have led to incipient speciation (Fisher-Reid et al. 2013), I have explored the question of whether or not color polymorphism is somehow involved in speciation and physiological tolerances across the genus. The results of this study were recently published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology (Fisher-Reid and Wiens 2015).

Current Projects


In Fall 2015, I joined the Salamander Population Adaptation Research Collaboration Network (SPARCnet). As part of this research collaborative, I will be setting up six paired plots in the forest on the campus of Bridgewater State University for long-term monitoring of P. cinereus populations. SPARCnet is a new initiative spearheaded by Dr. Evan Grant of the United States Geological Survey in Turners Falls, Massachusetts and Dr. David Miller of the Pennsylvania State University, with collaborators like myself throughout the large range of P. cinereus. SPARCnet aims to unite researchers, educators, and citizen scientists across northeastern North America in a large-scale ecological monitoring project to better understand the impacts of land use and climate change on salamander populations, and how salamanders might adapt to a changing climate.

Characterizing the Relationship Between Genetic Variation and Environmental Gradients

My current major project extends my doctoral work to examine how environmental gradients affect population genetics more generally. Gradients come in many shapes, sizes, and types, and a deeper understanding of the relationship between genetic variation (adaptive, neutral, and deleterious) and various characteristics of environmental gradients is lacking. I am approaching in this question from two perspectives (conservation and speciation), again using the eastern red-backed salamander, P. cinereus. In the spring of 2013, I was awarded the Mountain Lake Biological Station (MLBS) Early Career Fellowship, and I traveled to station in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains this summer to begin this project. This is a long-term, multi-stage project, and as I progress, I hope to include genetic data from mountain slopes throughout the range of P. cinereus, and take advantage of next-generation sequencing methods to explore both adaptive and neutral variation.

Undergraduate Research Projects

As part of my role as a professor at Bridgewater State University, I mentor undergraduate research students on small projects spanning a few semesters and often a summer or two. These projects typically deal with salamanders, population genetics, and habitat preferences, but the specific details are up to the students involved. For some ideas of what my students are or have worked on, please check back here soon for a forthcoming student research page!

Last Updated: August 2nd, 2016