Sharon E. Wise, Ph.D.

Dr. Sharon Wise
  • Dean of Arts & Sciences and Professor of Biology
(315) 792-3028
  • 286 Gordon Science Center
  • School of Arts & Sciences
Position type
Dr. Wise on


I am a behavioral ecologist with a Ph.D. (1995) in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology from The University of Louisiana, Lafayette (formerly, The University of Southwestern Louisiana). My dissertation is entitled, Variation in the Life History and Sociobiology of a Territorial Salamander. In 1991, I received an M.S. in Biology, also from The University of Louisiana, Lafayette. My thesis is entitled, Territorial Conflicts of Tail-Autotomizing Salamanders: Males Play Asymmetric Games. My undergraduate degree is a B.S. in Zoology (1988) from the University of Florida. My teaching interests are in the areas of Research Methods, Animal Behavior, Animal Physiology, Zoology, and Ecology.

My research interest is broadly in the area of behavioral ecology. More specifically, I have combined laboratory and field studies to investigate (1) factors that influence the expression of aggressive behavior, such as body condition, body size, resource availability, and prior experience in territorial salamanders, (2) the modes by which these salamanders communicate and obtain information related to body size and condition, (3) the relationship between aggression and hormone levels, such as testosterone, (4) trade-offs associated with territorial advertisement and energy acquisition, (5) the relationship between social interactions and population distribution in natural habitats, (6) the nocturnal activity patterns of these salamanders, and (7) environmental conditions and perturbations which may alter the distribution and activity of these salamanders. Primarily, I have conducted studies using lower vertebrates, particularly reptiles and amphibians. Most frequently, I have studied the terrestrial red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus; a species that is abundant in mature, eastern forests throughout North America.

Opportunities for Student Research and Collaboration

There are many opportunities for students to conduct research under my direction, and I am currently seeking motivated students interested in behavior and ecology. Students may either conduct their own research, under my direction, or participate in one of my ongoing projects. I am interested in working with students during the regular school year and/or during the summer. Limited funding is available through the College and the Department of Biology for undergraduate research.

Below are some examples of ongoing research projects in which students may wish to become involved.

* I am investigating the relationship between testosterone and aggressive behavior in territorial residents and intruders after short-term and long-term aggressive interactions. Prior research indicates that testosterone levels drop rapidly in intruders that invade the territory of a resident and are involved in agonistic interactions. It is unknown why this may occur, or the effect that low testosterone levels may have on aggression in intruders

* Red-backed salamanders communicate ownership of territories by depositing chemical cues on the substrate of their territories. Intruders, entering these territories, obtain information about the body size and body condition of the territorial residents. The information obtained influences the intruder?s aggressive response. More studies are needed to determine the types of information intruders are obtaining about residents and how such information influences their behavior. Additionally, in collaboration with Dr. Michael Miller, students may examine the chemical makeup of the pheromones that are deposited on the substrate and the information these chemicals provide to intruders.

* Red-backed salamanders also mark territories using fecal pellets (presumably there are chemical cues in these fecal pellets). By expelling fecal pellets before all the nutrients are extracted, salamanders seem better able to attract females into their territories and perhaps better mark territories. However, this is at the expense of energy acquisition. Currently, I am studying some of the circumstances under which salamanders trade off energy and nutrients for territory defense.

* Red-backed salamanders produce sound when in close proximity to other salamanders. The function of these sounds has not yet been identified. This area of research is wide-open and provides some basic research into communication via sound.

* Salamanders are nocturnal but may use vision for foraging and during territorial contests. Ongoing research, with Dr. Bryant Buchanan, is currently examining the visual capabilities of these salamanders and the effect of light pollution (that is, excess light produced by humans) on the aggressive behavior and nocturnal activity patterns of the red-backed salamander.


B.S. University of Florida
M.S., Ph.D. University of Louisiana

Past Research

Most Recent Research Publications (* indicates undergraduate collaborators)

Perry, G., B. W. Buchanan, R. N. Fisher, M. Salmon, and S. Wise.(In Press, 2008) Effects of artificial night lighting on urban reptiles and amphibians. (chapter in Urban Herpetology, R. Jung ed.)

Wise, S. E. and B. W. Buchanan. 2006. 'The influence of artificial illumination on the nocturnal behavior and physiology of salamanders: studies in the laboratory and field.' Chapter 10 in Rich, C. and T. Longcore (Eds). Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting. Island Press.

Wise, S. E., F. D. Verret*, and R. G. Jaeger. (2004) Tail autotomy in territorial salamanders influences scent marking by residents and behavioral responses of intruders to resident chemical cues. Copeia 2004:165-172.

Wise, S. E. and R. G. Jaeger. 1998. The influence of tail autotomy on agonistic behaviour in a territorial salamander. Animal Behaviour 55:1707-1716.

Lancaster, D. L. and S. E. Wise. 1996. Differential response by the ringneck snake, Diadophis punctatus, to odors of tail-autotomizing prey. Herpetologica 52:98-108.

Most Recent Research Talks (* indicates undergraduate collaborators)

2007 - Invited Presentation - Starlight 2007: International Conference in Defence of the Quality of the Night Sky and the Right to Observe the Stars, La Palma, Canary Islands

2006. Perry, G., B. W. Buchanan, R. N. Fisher, N. Salmon, and S. E. Wise. Effects of artificial night lighting on reptiles and amphibians in urban environments. Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH, HL, SSAR). New Orleans, LA.

2004 - Kenny, T, L.*, S. E. Wise, and B. W. Buchanan. Poster. Sound Production and Social Interactions in the Red-Backed Salamander. Northeast Natural History Conference VIII.

2004 - Jackson, E.*, B. Buchanan, and S. Wise. Poster. An Evaluation of Illumination Levels Available to Leaf Litter Organisms that Reside in or Below the Leaf Litter. Northeast Natural History Conference VIII.

2004 - Buchanan, B. W. and S. W. Wise. Artificial night lighting alters emergence time in nocturnally active terrestrial salamanders. Northeast Natural History Conference VIII.

2003 - Buchanan, B. W. and S. E. Wise. Department of Biology, Bucknell University. The effects of artificial night lighting on the behavior and ecology of red-backed salamanders.

2003 - Wise, S. E. and B. W. Buchanan. Amphibians and Light Pollution. Ecology of the Night Symposium, Muskoka, Canada.

2003 - Wise, S. E. Artificial Night Lighting as a Potential Pollutant Affecting Noctrurnal Salamanders.Pine Barrens Research Forum - Brookhaven National Laboratory, NY.

2002. Presentation: Wise, S. and B. Buchanan. The effects of artificial illumination on the ecology and behavior of salamanders.  Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting  Urban Wildlands Group - UCLA Institute for the Environment Conference, Los Angeles.

Barto, A. R.* and S. E. Wise. 1999. Response of intruders to chemical cues that indicate duration of territoral ownership. Animal Behavior Society, Bucknell University, PA.

Wise, S.E. and D. R. Church.1998. Related seasonal and geographic variation in agonistic behavior, testosterone concentrations, and head morphology. Fourth Conference on the Biology of Plethodontid Salamanders. Highlands Biological Station, Highlands, NC.

Wise, S. E. 1996. Seasonal and geographical variation in the agonistic behavior of a territorial salamander.

Invited symposium. American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and The Herpetologists? League, University of New Orleans, LA.

Courses Taught

BIO 101 - Human Anatomy and Physiology I

A course in the biology of man with emphasis on the integration of form and function. Included are cell biology and skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems.

BIO 231 - Research Methods I

Introduction to experimental design and analysis. Evaluate merit and content of primary literature, critique oral presentations by researchers, use computer spreadsheets and statistical software for data organization, graphical and written presentation, and data analysis.

BIO 232 - Research Methods II

Research design and presentation. Writing research papers using specific journal format and word processing software, graphical and oral presentation of research projects, writing letters of application and resumes, and critiquing oral presentations of researchers.

BIO 324 - Animal Physiology

A descriptive study of the basic physiological principles of the neurological, endocrinological, muscular, cardiovascular, digestive, reproductive, and respiratory systems. Emphasis is given to the interrelationships of the physiological process among these systems through biofeedback control in maintaining homeostasis.

Awards and Recognition

Dr. Virgil Crisafulli Distinguished Teaching Award, 2010, 2011

I would like to see logins and resources for:

For a general list of frequently used logins, you can also visit our logins page.