Major in Psychobiology

Bachelor of Science Degree • School of Arts and Sciences

Psychobiology Program Faculty

Thomas (Tom) M. McCarthy, Ph.D.

Professor of Biology

Dr. Tom McCarthy
Phone: (315) 223-2510
Office: 163 Gordon Science Center


Brief Autobiograhical Statement

I grew up in Binghamton, New York and received my B.S. in Biology at Binghamton University (formerly SUNY Binghamton) in 1993. I then enrolled in the East/West Marine Biology Program, which is a 1-year non-degree program run through Northeastern University. I earned my M.S. in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology / General Biology from the University of West Florida in 1997. My project examined the predator-avoidance behaviors of an aquatic snail. When I finished there, I enrolled at the University of Kentucky and received my Ph.D. in Biology in 2003. I continued working with the snails during my dissertation project, focusing on factors that influence the mating system. I then moved north of the border to accept a Postdoctoral Fellowship position at the University of Lethbridge, which is located in Alberta, Canada. While the research still focused on mating systems, the study organism was very different; we examined mating behaviors and phonotaxis (movement in response to acoustic signals) in field crickets. I also had the opportunity to work as a Sessional Lecturer teaching an introductory course: Diversity of Life.

Research Interests and Research in Progress

My interests are both behavioral and ecological in nature. Most of my work has examined how organisms avoid being killed by predators, how organisms find and assess potential mates, and the trade-offs associated with balancing these activities. I am also interested in how changes in the context in which interactions occur alter behavioral dynamics during, and the outcomes of, those interactions. I have addressed these questions using invertebrate systems: my Ph.D. dissertation examined the mating strategies of a species of aquatic snail. In order to determine whether the genetic similarity of mates influences mating systems, I compared the behavioral dynamics and reproductive success resulting from controlled matings between individuals of known relatedness (e.g. siblings or cousins). Additionally, I examined whether changes in the context in which the interactions occur (e.g. levels of predation risk) influenced mating behaviors. The fact that the snails are hermaphrodites (simultaneously possess both male and female reproductive organs) makes these questions much more interesting and complex. Other studies have addressed a variety of topics, including: the effects of temporal patterns of predation risk on prey behavior (snails), examining the simultaneous effects of injury-released chemical cues on the behaviors of prey and their predators (snails & crayfish), comparing male calling durations to male phonotactic responses (crickets). I am also interested in how parasitism affects mating strategies (crickets and/or snails).

Most Recent Research Publications (undergraduate co-authors in boldface)

DeWitt TJ, McCarthy TM, Washick DL, Clark AB & Langerhans RB. (provisionally accepted) Predator avoidance behavior of a freshwater snail in response to turtles. American Midland Naturalist.

McCarthy TM. (in press) Effects of pair-type and isolation time on mating interactions of a freshwater snail, Physa gyrina (Say, 1821). American Malacological Bulletin.

Rohr JR, Elskus AA, Shepherd BS, Crowley PH, McCarthy TM, Niedzwiecki JH, Sager T, Sih A & Palmer BD. (in press) Multiple stressors and streamside salamanders: Effects of the herbicide atrazine, food limitation, and drying conditions. Ecological Applications.

Rohr JR, Elskus AA, Shepherd BS, Crowley PH, McCarthy TM, Niedzwiecki JH, Sager T, Sih A & Palmer BD. 2003. Lethal and sublethal effects of atrazine, carbaryl, endosulfan, and octylphenol on the streamside salamander (Ambystoma barbouri). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 22: 2385-2392.

McCarthy TM & Dickey BF. 2002. Chemically mediated effects of injured prey on behavior of both prey and predators. Behaviour, 139: 585-602.

Sih A & McCarthy TM. 2002. Prey responses to pulses of risk and safety: testing the risk allocation hypothesis. Animal Behaviour, 63: 437-443.

McCarthy TM & Fisher WA. 2000. Multiple predator-avoidance behaviours of the freshwater snail Physella heterostropha pomila (Conrad): responses vary with risk. Freshwater Biology, 44: 387-397.
Westneat DF, Walters A, McCarthy TM, Hatch MI & Hein WK. 2000. Alternative mechanisms of nonindependent mate choice. Animal Behaviour, 59: 467-476.

Recent Presentations

Poster presentations: (* presenter; ‡ undergraduate student)

*‡Prestia L, Provost T & McCarthy TM. Activity levels in relation to habitat and energy in freshwater hermaphroditic snails. Northeast Natural History Conference X, 2008 Published abstract: Abstracts Northeast Natural History Conference X. N.Y. State Mus. Circ. 71: pp 77. 2008. (ISBN: 1-55557-246-4)

*‡Vo K, McCarthy TM, Buchanan B & Wise S. Effect of artificial night lighting and time on aquatic snail activity patterns. Northeast Natural History Conference X, 2008 Published abstract: Abstracts Northeast Natural History Conference X. N.Y. State Mus. Circ. 71: pp 83. 2008. (ISBN: 1-55557-246-4)

*McCarthy TM, ‡June J, ‡Vo K, Provost T, Wise S & Buchanan B. Artificial night lighting alters behavioral, growth and reproductive patterns of an aquatic hermaphrodite snail. 12th Congress of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology, 2008

Opportunity for Student Research

The invertebrate animals that I study are relatively easy to work with and would provide numerous opportunities for undergraduate research projects. I would encourage highly motivated students interested in gaining research experience to either conduct their own research under my supervision, or to participate in one of my projects. Some of my research goals include:

* Examining some of the 'gender' implications for hermaphrodites with regards to: a) the physiological mechanisms involved in switching genders; b) individuals' behavioral tendencies to occupy each gender role; and c) asymmetrical gender-based mating preferences
* Studying the effects of 'inbreeding depression' on: a) locomotion rates; b) growth rates; c) type and efficacy of predator-avoidance behaviors; and d) tolerance to environmental stressors (e.g. temperature fluctuations). Many studies have examined the effects of inbreeding on reproductive success and viability of offspring, but fewer studies have examined the effects of inbreeding that may be expressed later in life.
* Assessing the effects varying temporal patterns of predation risk on mating behaviors. Some recent theory predicts that prey organisms exposed to similar conditions will behave differently (with regards to time spent foraging) depending on how often they have experienced predation risk in the past. I am interested in determining whether this theory can be extended to mating behaviors.
* Examine the foraging strategies of individual crayfish. Crayfish consume snails using several techniques (e.g. chip away shell aperture, snap off shell spire, crush entire shell, pull animal from intact shell), and previous observations have suggested that individual crayfish have one or two favored strategies. I am interested in determining whether foraging strategies differ among individuals and what factors will influence these behaviors (e.g. crayfish size, snail size, etc.).
* And many more?

Courses Taught

BIO 211 - General Biology

Study of life as characterized by cell organization and structure, release and utilization of energy, photosynthesis, growth and reproduction, interaction with the environment, Mendelian inheritance, genetic technology, and change over time. Laboratory experiences reflect lectures and expose students to scientific methodology, hypothesis building and testing, various qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis.

BIO 495 - Senior Seminar

Critical analysis of research literature and integration of diverse disciplines to foster a more comprehensive understanding of issues in the biological sciences. Prerequisites: Biology 211 and 212, and senior standing.


Sharon Wise, Ph.D.
Associate Dean, Natural Sciences and Mathematics
161 Gordon Science Center

(315) 792-3356
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