I have had the rare privilege to turn my childhood fascination into a career. I grew up catching snakes, turtles and toads in the forests and creeks near my house. As a professor, I have the opportunity to share my passion for these animals and their conservation with students in the classroom and in the field.
I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph. There I met herpetologists Ron Brooks and Jim Bogart, and so began my formal training in herpetology. I did my MSc under Ron’s supervision at Guelph, studying the population ecology of Spotted Turtles at their northern range limit. In the summers, I taught biology to kids at a canoe-tripping camp, and so got to combine my interests in biology, teaching, and the outdoors.
Between my MSc and PhD, I worked as a Lab Coordinator in the Cryobiology Lab at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, USA. I worked with Rick Lee and Jon Costanzo, and their graduate and undergraduate students. I learned a whole new set of skills and gained an appreciation for physiological-ecology and the incredible adaptations that herps have for surviving winter.
After three years in the Cryo Lab, I decided it was time for me to return to graduate school, to answer the questions about latitudinal variation in turtle life histories that arose during my MSc research. So I left Ohio and moved to South Carolina to study the population ecology of Spotted Turtles at their southern range limit. I worked under the supervision of Tim Mousseau, an ex-pat Canadian, at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
After completion of my PhD, I moved to Long Island, New York to live with my husband, Dr. Thomas Merritt who was doing a post doc at Stony Brook University (he is now a CRC here at Laurentian in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry). While in New York, I worked as an Adjunct Professor at Long Island University and as a research associate at Applied Biomathematics.
Then, in spring 2004, I was offered the faculty position here at Laurentian University, and so I moved back home to Ontario after 8 years in the USA. I have been a professor at Laurentian since July 2004.
"I look at this turtle now in my hand and wonder what grace allows me to hold and ponder such a tangible piece of the history of life on earth..." David M. Carroll. 1991. The Year of the Turtle: A Natural History
- BSc, Wildlife Biology, University of Guelph, 1993
- MSc, Ecology, University of Guelph, 1996
- PhD, Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, University of South Carolina, 2003
2014-present Full Professor, Laurentian University
2009-2014 Associate Professor, Laurentian University
2004-2009 Assistant Professor, Laurentian University
2004 Adjunct Professor, Long Island University, New York
1996-99 Research Lab Coordinator, Miami University, Ohio
On The Web
My research program combines field and lab-based approaches, and basic and applied science. Projects in my lab address questions in the areas of evolutionary ecology and conservation biology of reptiles, including examination of the adaptive significance of life history variation, and the application of these data to mitigation and recovery actions. Recent and current research examined/examines variation in the life history and ecology of federally-listed turtle and snake species, with emphasis on demography, maternal investment, road ecology, spatial ecology and habitat selection. The physiological research examines questions about the adaptive bioenergetic, fitness, and thermoregulatory consequences of certain behaviours, particularly summer and winter dormancy, in reptiles.
Our research is funded primarily by NSERC and the Ontario MNRF through the Species at Risk Research Fund (SARRF) and the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund (SARSF). We have also received support from Environment Canada's Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) and the Canadian Wildlife Federation. We are grateful to our partners, especially Ontario Parks, for their financial and in-kind support.
Team Litzgus Research News
April 2017: Great news from NSERC! Another 5 years of Discovery Grant funds secured.
April 2017: Steven won three awards at the BIOL 5056 Eagle Awards Gala for his sci comm video about his thesis project. Holy-moly, three awards, including the People's Choice Award! Congrats Steven!
March 2017: Damien won the 3MT competition at Laurentian's Research Week, and he's off to the provincials at Waterloo on April 12. Congrats Damien!
December 2016: Dec 6th was a great day for snake papers in the lab! Julia's and James' paper about external transmitter attachment on snakes was accepted in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, and Mike's paper about road mortality mitigation for Massasaugas was accepted in Wildlife Research. Congrats Team!
September 2016: It has been a busy month for the Team... MSc defenses, new lab members, and presentations at the annual meeting of the Canadian Herpetological Society. The CHS meeting was at the Toronto Zoo and the lab gave 8 talks and 7 posters at the conference. Wow!
September 2016: Donnell Gasbarrini successfully defended her MSc thesis. Thanks to Patricia Chow-Fraser from McMaster University for serving as the External Examiner. And, Donnell is already gainfully employed at the OTCC. Congrats Donnell!
September 2016: The Litzgus Lab welcomes its newest graduate members, Damien Mullin and Steven Kell, who are both starting their MSc theses. Grow the Team!
August 2016: Geoff Hughes successfully defended his MSc. A special thanks to Glenn Tattersall from Brock University for serving as the External Examiner and for taking the time to drive up to attend the defense in person. Congrats Ninja Geoff!
July 2016: Hannah McCurdy-Adams successfully defended her MSc. Thanks to Steven Cooke from Carleton University who took time away from his vacation to serve as the External Examiner; I owe him mashed potatoes with gravy! Congrats Hannah!
July 2016: The Litzgus Lab attended the JMIH in NOLA. We contributed 11 presentations in honour of the 100th birthday of ASIH. Tomiodonts won the stage again - Patrick Moldowan won best student talk in the SSAR Ecology competition. Congrats Patrick!
April 2016: The Litzgus Lab and partners received $93,828 in three grants from SARSF and SARRF to support our applied species at risk reptile work in Ontario. Thanks MNRF!
Current Graduate Student Projects
Sean Boyle (Ph.D. candidate; OGS scholar; co-supervised w/ D. Lesbarrères) - A road to conservation: A multi-taxa approach to understanding the effects of roads on wildlife, management strategies, and conservation along roads.
Matthew Keevil (Ph.D. candidate; OGS scholar) - Dispersal of Snapping Turtles and Painted Turtles: A comparative investigation of a cryptic life history trait. [on leave]
Steven Kell (M.Sc. candidate) - Quantifying the effects of roads on turtle population demographics, and investigating nesting behaviours in Painted Turtles.
Damien Mullin-Semeniuk (M.Sc. candidate, ReNewZoo program) - Evaluating the effectiveness of headstarting for Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) recovery.
Graduate Student Alumni
James Baxter-Gilbert (M.Sc. 2014; co-supervised w/ D. Lesbarrères) – The long road ahead: Understanding road-related threats to reptiles and testing if current mitigation measures are effective at minimizing impacts.
Amanda Bennett (M.Sc. 2009) – Effects of habitat fragmentation on the spatial ecology and genetics of Northern Map Turtles (Graptemys geographica).
Michael Colley (M.Sc. 2015; co-supervised w/ S. Lougheed) - Evaluating population-level effectiveness of road mortality mitigation for the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.
Christopher Edge (M.Sc. 2008; co-supervised w/ R.J. Brooks) – Multiple scale habitat selection in Blanding’s Turtles (Emydoidea blandingii).
Jean Enneson (M.Sc. 2007) – Population viability analysis and response to habitat change in Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata).
Donnell Gasbarrini (M.Sc. 2016; co-supervised w/ D. Lesbarreres) - Investigation into the cause of a mass mortality of a long-lived species in a Provincial Park and an evaluation of recovery strategies.
William Greaves (M.Sc. 2007; OGS scholar) – A cold and harsh environment: Demography and spatial ecology of a northern population of Wood Turtles (Glyptemys insculpta).
Geoffrey Hughes (M.Sc. 2016) - Navigating the thermal landscape: Spatial-thermal ecology of Wood Turtles in the north.
Jolene Laverty (M.Sc. 2010) – Measuring the effects of water-based recreation on turtle populations in an Ontario Park.
Michelle Martin (M.Sc. 2011; co-supervised w/ J. Hamr) – Spatial behaviour and habitat use by Elk (Cervus elaphus) in response to highway construction and interprovincial relocation.
Hannah McCurdy-Adams (M.Sc. 2016; OGS scholar) - Anthropogenic influences on chronic stress and patterns of nest predation in freshwater turtles.
Patrick Moldowan (M.Sc. 2014) - Sexual dimorphism and alternative reproductive tactics in the Midland Painted Turtle.
James Paterson (M.Sc. 2011; NSERC scholar) – Mitigating human impacts through residence creation and assessment of critical habitat for turtle species at risk.
Megan Rasmussen (M.Sc. 2009) – Habitat selection, foraging ecology, and maternal investment in a Lake Huron population of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata): Implications for conservation and management.
Dan Reeves (M.Sc. 2007) – Modeling critical breeding habitat and body size variation in the federally endangered Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata).
Julia Riley (M.Sc. 2012; NSERC scholar) – The importance of nest micro-environment for turtle conservation, hatchling overwintering strategy, and fitness.
Kiyoshi Sasaki (Post doc; 2014) - Impact assessment and development of ecological restoration strategies for reptiles and amphibians inhabiting mining-disturbed environments.
Katharine Yagi (M.Sc. 2010) – The effects of flooding on the spatial ecology and thermoregulation of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) in a southern Ontario population.
Note that I will be on sabbatical from July 2017 through June 2018. Please see the Chair of Biology Dr. Mazen Saleh for information regarding my courses, and please see Dr. Peter Ryser for advising in the Ecology Specialization.
BIOL 3067 Winter Ecology (winter term, 3 cr)
BIOL 3726 Animal Histology (winter term, 3 cr)
BIOL 3746 Animal Ecology (fall term, 3 cr)
BIOL 4017 Literature Review (fall term, 3 cr)
BIOL 4035 Research and Seminar 4th year thesis (fall and winter terms, 6 cr)
BIOL 4747 Herpetology (fall term, 3 cr)
ACADEMIC ADVISOR for the Biology Specialization in ECOLOGY.
If you need help with your course selections, please send me an email to make an appointment.
- Blue Racer Award, Canadian Herpetological Society, in recognition of long-standing contributions to the research and conservation of amphibians and reptiles in Canada, 2016
- Community Builders Award of Excellence, Environment category (with Baxter-Gilbert, Riley, and Lesbarreres), City of Greater Sudbury, 2015
- Research Excellence Award, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Laurentian University, 2013
- Associate Editor, Copeia, American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
- Associate Editor, Canadian Journal of Zoology
- Associate Editor, Herpetological Conservation and Biology
- Member, Amphibians and Reptiles Species Specialist Subcommittee of COSEWIC (2004-2016)
- Member, Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Subcommittee of IUCN
- Chair, Algonquin Wildlife Research Station board of directors (http://www.algonquinwrs.ca/)
2012-present only (* HQP/student author)
- Colley, M.*, S. Lougheed, K. Otterbein, and J.D. Litzgus. 2017. Mitigation reduces road mortality of a threatened rattlesnake. Wildlife Research (doi: 10.1071/WR16130).
- Edge, C., N. Rollinson, R. Brooks, J. Congdon, J. Iverson, F. Janzen, and J. Litzgus. 2017. Phenotypic plasticity of nest timing in a post-glacial landscape: How do reptiles adapt to seasonal time constraints? Ecology 98(2): 512-524.
- Keevil, M.G.*, B.S. Hewitt*, R.J. Brooks, and J.D. Litzgus. 2017. Patterns of intraspecific aggression inferred from injuries in an aquatic turtle with male-biased size dimorphism. Canadian Journal of Zoology (accepted for publication 2 February 2017).
- Moldowan, P.D.*, R.J. Brooks, and J.D. Litzgus. 2017. Assessing cranial dimorphism in the midland painted turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) using a photographic questionnaire. Chelonian Conservation and Biology (doi: 10.2744/CCB-1235.1).
- Riley, J.L.*, J.H. Baxter-Gilbert*, and J.D. Litzgus. 2017. A comparison of three external transmitter attachment methods for snakes. Wildlife Society Bulletin (doi: 10.1002/wsb.748).
- Colley, M.*, S. Lougheed, K. Otterbein, and J.D. Litzgus. 2016. Nerodia sipedon sipedon (Northern Watersnake). Reproduction / Arboreal mating. Herpetological Review 47(1): 149-150.
- Hughes, G.H.*, L. Monck-Whipp, and J.D. Litzgus. 2016. Glyptemys insculpta (Wood Turtle). Potential anting behavior. Herpetological Review 47(3): 445-446.
- Laverty, J.F.*, B. Korol, and J.D. Litzgus. 2016. Measuring the effects of water-based recreation on the spatial ecology of Eastern Musk Turtles (Sternotherus odoratus) in a Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Copeia 104(2): 440-447 (doi: 10.1643/CE-15-284).
- Moldowan, P.D.*, R.J. Brooks, and J.D. Litzgus. 2016. Quantification of cranial and tomiodont dimorphism in Testudines using the Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata). Zoomorphology (doi: 10.1007/s00435-016-0320-0).
- Moldowan, P.D.*, R.J. Brooks, and J.D. Litzgus. 2016. Turtles with “teeth”: Beak morphology of Testudines with a focus on the tomiodonts of Painted Turtles (Chrysemys spp.). Zoomorphology 135: 121-135 (doi: 10.1007/s00435-015-0288-1).
- Mui, A.B.*, C.B. Edge*, J.E. Paterson*, B. Caverhill, B. Johnson, J.D. Litzgus, and Y. He. 2016. Nesting sites in agricultural landscapes are a potential sink for turtle populations. Canadian Journal of Zoology 94: 61-67 (doi: 10.1139/cjz-2015-0154).
- Riley, J.L.*, J.H. Baxter-Gilbert*, C. Guglielmo, and J.D. Litzgus. 2016. A novel approach for measuring body condition of snakes using quantitative magnetic resonance. Journal of Herpetology 50(4): 627-632 (doi: 10.1670/15-113).
- Sasaki, K.*, D. Lesbarrères, C. Tremblay Beaulieu*, G. Watson and J.D. Litzgus. 2016. Effects of a mining-altered environment on individual fitness of amphibians and reptiles. Ecosphere 7(6): e01360 .
- Baxter-Gilbert*, J.H., J.L. Riley*, D. Lesbarrères, and J.D. Litzgus. 2015. Mitigating reptile road mortality: Fence failures compromise ecopassage effectiveness. PLoS ONE (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120537).
- Baxter-Gilbert*, J.H., J.L. Riley*, C.J.H. Neufeld*, J.D. Litzgus, and D. Lesbarrères. 2015. Road mortality responsible for billions of pollinating insect deaths annually. Journal of Insect Conservation 19(5): 1029-1035 (doi: 10.1007/s10841-015-9808-z).
- Baxter-Gilbert*, J.H., J.L. Riley*, P. Moldowan*, and J.D. Litzgus. 2015. Sistrurus catenatus catenatus (Eastern Massasauga) and Nerodia sipedon sipedon (Northern Watersnake). Diet and foreign object. Herpetological Review 46(1): 107.
- Bennett, A.M.*, M.G. Keevil*, and J.D. Litzgus. 2015. Sternotherus odoratus (Eastern Musk Turtle). Home range. Herpetological Review 46(2): 245-246.
- Boyle, S.*, J.D. Litzgus, and D. Lesbarrères. 2015. Chelydra serpentina (Snapping Turtle). Injury. Herpetological Review 46(2): 240-241.
- Moldowan, P.D.*, M.G. Keevil*, P.B. Mills, R.J. Brooks, and J.D. Litzgus. 2015. Diet and feeding behaviour of Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) and Midland Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta marginata) in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario. Canadian Field-Naturalist 129(4): 403-408.
- Moldowan, P.D.*, M.G. Keevil*, S. Kell*, R.J. Brooks, and J.D. Litzgus. 2015. Anti-predator defenses of Brown Bullheads (Ameiurus nebulosus) and interactions with Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina). Canadian Field-Naturalist 129(2): 189-193. [journal cover photo by P.D. Moldowan]
- Moldowan, P.D.*, M.G. Keevil*, N. Koper, R.J. Brooks, and J.D. Litzgus. 2015. Growth, sexual maturity, and reproduction of a female Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) afflicted with kyphosis. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 14(2): 157-160.
- Sasaki, K.*, D. Lesbarrères, G. Watson, and J.D. Litzgus. 2015. Mining-caused changes to habitat structure affect amphibian and reptile population ecology more than metal pollution. Ecological Applications 25(8): 2240-2254 (doi.org/10.1890/14-1418.1)
- Baxter-Gilbert*, J.H., J.L. Riley*, G. Mastromonaco, J.D. Litzgus, and D. Lesbarrères. 2014. Using a novel technique to measure chronic levels of corticoste.rone in turtles living around a major roadway. Conservation Physiology 2 doi: 10.1093/conphys/cou036.
- Bennett, A.M.* and J.D. Litzgus. 2014. Injury rates of species at risk turtles on a recreational waterway in Ontario, Canada. Journal of Herpetology 48(2): 262-266.
- Lesbarrères, D., S.L. Ashpole, C.A. Bishop, G. Blouin-Demers, R.J. Brooks, P. Echaubard, P. Govindarajulu, D.M. Green, S.J. Hecnar, T. Herman, J. Houlahan, J.D. Litzgus, M.J. Mazerolle, C.A. Paszkowski, P. Rutherford, D.M. Schock, K.B. Storey, and S.C. Lougheed. 2014. Conservation of herpetofauna in northern landscapes: Threats and challenges from a Canadian perspective. Biological Conservation 170: 48-55. 43.
- Paterson, J.E.*, B.D. Steinberg, and J.D. Litzgus. 2014. Effects of body size, habitat selection, and exposure on hatchling turtle survival. Journal of Zoology doi: 10.1111/jzo.12176.
- Riley, J.L.* and J.D. Litzgus. 2014. Cues used by predators to detect freshwater turtle nests may persist late into incubation. Canadian Field-Naturalist 128(2): 179-188.
- Riley, J.L.*, S. Freedberg, and J.D. Litzgus. 2014. Incubation temperature influences hatchling phenotype of two freshwater turtle species in the wild. Evolutionary Ecology Research 16: 397-416.
- Riley, J.L.*, G.J. Tattersall, and J.D. Litzgus. 2014. Potential sources of intra-population variation in painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) hatchling overwintering strategy. Journal of Experimental Biology 217(23): 4174-4183. [journal cover photo by J.L. Riley]
- Baxter-Gilbert, J.*, J.L. Riley*, and J.D. Litzgus. 2013. Plestiodon fasciatus (Five-lined Skink). Artificial habitat use. Herpetological Review 44(4): 680-681.
- Baxter-Gilbert, J.*, J.L. Riley*, and J.D. Litzgus. 2013. Sistrurus catenatus catenatus (Eastern Massasauga). Diet. Herpetological Review 44(3): 526-527.
- Baxter-Gilbert, J.*, J.L. Riley*, and J.D. Litzgus. 2013. Chrysemys picta marginata (Midland Painted Turtle) and Emydoidea blandingii (Blanding’s Turtle). Hatchling mortality. Herpetological Review 44(2): 303-304.
- Baxter-Gilbert, J.*, J.L. Riley*, and J.D. Litzgus. 2013. Chrysemys picta marginata (Midland Painted Turtle). Avian predation. Herpetological Review 44(2): 302-303.
- Paterson, J.E.*, B.D. Steinberg, and J.D. Litzgus. 2013. Not just any old pile of dirt: Evaluating the use of artificial nesting mounds as conservation tools for freshwater turtles. Oryx 47(4): 1-9.
- Riley, J.L.* and J.D. Litzgus. 2013. Evaluation of predator-exclusion cages used in turtle conservation: Cost-analysis, and effects on nest environment and proxies of hatchling fitness. Wildlife Research 40(6): 499-511.
- Yagi, K.T.* and J.D. Litzgus. 2013. Thermal ecology of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) in a beaver flooded bog in Southern Ontario, Canada. Journal of Thermal Biology 38(5): 205–213.
- Leduc, J.C.*, K.J. Kozlowicz*, J.D. Litzgus, and D. Lesbarrères. 2012. Ecology of herpetofaunal populations in smelting wetlands. Herpetology Notes 5: 115-125.
- Paterson. J.E.*, B. Steinberg, and J.D. Litzgus. 2012. Generally specialized or especially general? Habitat selection by snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) in central Ontario. Canadian Journal of Zoology 90: 139-149.
- Paterson, J.E.*, B.D. Steinberg, and J.D. Litzgus. 2012. Revealing a cryptic life history stage: Differences in habitat selection and survivorship between hatchlings of two turtle species at risk (Glyptemys insculpta and Emydoidea blandingii). Wildlife Research 39(5): 408-418.
- Riley, J.L.*, J.E. Paterson*, and J.D. Litzgus. 2012. Emydoidea blandingii (Blanding’s Turtle). Record clutch size. Herpetological Review 43(2): 326-327.
- Yagi, K.T.* and J.D. Litzgus. 2012. The effects of flooding on the spatial ecology of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) in a partially mined peatland. Copeia 2012(2): 179-190.