Midwestern State University

Research and Publications

The thrill of discovery is the force driving research in The Watson Laboratory.  We use standard field research techniques, museum collection data, GIS technology, and controlled laboratory experiments to address such diverse topics as the evolution of viviparity and the fitness benefits of aposematism in lizards.  We typically use lizards as subjects of investigation, but the lab is not taxonomically limited.  The general fields of study that The Watson Evolutionary Ecology and Physiology Laboratory is involved follows with publications in that field.  The lab is well equipped with a state of the art fiber optic respirometry system, a photosynthesis and transpiration system, large environmental chamber, semimicro bomb calorimeter, steriomicroscope, multiple computers, a 3D printer and scanner, and a wide variety of field equipment.  There is a large animal room with commercial enclosures and dedicated space in the greenhouse.  We are constantly acquiring new equipment and resources to increase the capacity for research in The Watson Laboratory.

Reproductive Mode Evolution


This line of research hopes to reveal candidate selective pressures that led to the evolution of viviparity in a group of organisms who may be experiencing a global collapse in diversity (high-elevation squamates) and may provide clues to the adaptive significance of this trait in other groups, such as mammals.  The currently accepted hypothesis, The Cold Climate Hypothesis, posits that cold temperatures constitute the primary selective pressure favoring live birth but our research show that it may be more complex than that.  Currently we are collaborating with labs at UNT, Georgia Southern University, and UAEMex to investigate the role of hypoxia alongside cooler temperatures in the evolution of viviparity.


  • ​Watson, C.M., R. Makowsky, & J. C. Bagley.  2014. Reproductive mode evolution in lizards revisited: updated analyses examining geographic, climatic and phylogenetic effects support the cold-climate hypothesis.  Journal of Evolutionary Biology 27 (12), 2767-2780

Physiological Ecology


​The Watson Lab routinely incorporates physiological and ecological data to gain a better understanding of the interactions of populations or species with one another and/or the environment.  This research is applicable to timely topics like Global Climate Change and Species Invasions.  We are in the process of documenting optimal feeding frequency for a number of snake species and incorporating additional taxa to test the ubiquity of the phenomenon.  Current research in Dominica, a collaboration with Operation Wallacea, is documenting the effects that a recent invasion of a second Anolis species has on the thermal physiology of the native endemic Anole.  We are also investigating plant/animal interactions using caterpillars that eat toxic plants.  We use milkweed/monarch butterflies and tobacco/tobacco hornworms to investigate the effects that the animals have on the plants and the reaction of the plants to being fed upon.  This line of research ties directly to the Anti-Predation Mechanisms and Conservation/Wildlife Biology emphases discussed below.


  • Watson, C.M. & W.W. Burggren. 2016. Interspecific Differences in Metabolic Rate and Metabolic Temperature Sensitivity Create Distinct Thermal Ecological Niches in Lizards (Plestiodon). PLoS One 


  • ​Watson, C.M. & L. Gough. 2012. The role of temperature in determining distributions and coexistence of three species of Plestiodon. Journal of Thermal Biology 37(5) 374-379.


  •  Watson, C.M. & D. R. Formanowicz. 2012. A Comparison of Maximum Sprint Speed Among the Five-lined Skinks (Plestiodon) of the Southeastern United States at Ecologically Relevant Temperatures. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 7(1) 75-82.

​Anti-Predation Mechanisms


We are primarily interested in the evolution and adaptive significance of anti-predation coloration in lizards.  Working closely with The Cox Lab at Georgia Southern University, we are exploring evolutionary patterns of conspicuous tail coloration as a decoy to divert avian attacks to the atutotomous tail.  Our milkweed/monarch butterfly research also has implications in this field because monarchs use toxins derived from the milkweed as a chemical defense against would-be predators and they have a distinct color and pattern that is mimicked by other non-toxic species.  Along with the Shao Lab and the Shipley Lab at MWSU we hope to identify species differences in defensive cardenolides and gain a better understanding of how milkweed mobilizes these toxins when under attack.


  • Watson, C.M., C. Roelke, P. Pasichnyk, & C. Cox. 2012. The fitness consequences of the autotomous blue tail in lizards: An empirical test of predator response using clay models. Zoology 115(5) 339-344


Conservation/Wildlife Biology


P.I. Watson's background in Zoo Herpetology and Wildlife Biology is evident in the research performed in The Watson Laboratory.  We maintain a research collection which offers husbandry experience to both graduates and undergraduates and allows us to perform controlled physiological laboratory experiments.  Many of the aforementioned projects, such as the evolution of viviparity and the Milkweed/Monarch Butterfly have a tie to conservation and wildlife biology. Other such research currently underway in The Watson Laboratory documents the diversity of mosquitoes in North Texas counties, explores the relationship of Quail management and Horned Lizard populations, and compares health-related blood chemistry values and body condition indices between wild and captive Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes


  • Watson, C.M. 2009. Selection of available post-fire substrate by Scincella lateralis Say (Ground Skink). The Texas Journal of Science 61(3) 219-224.


  • Watson, C.M. and M. L. Nicholson. 2011 (Published 2014). The recovery of the macroarthropod community within the leaf-litter of an East Texas mixed hardwood-pine habitat following a prescribed burn. The Texas Journal of Science 64(1)



Research Tools and Methods


​One challenge often encountered in our research is the lack of methods or instruments to gather the data needed for a project.  This is particularly evident when innovative ideas meet limited resources.  This is the environment in which The Watson Lab works due to our ambitious research agenda at a smaller Masters-granting institution.  We overcome these obstacles by designing new tools and collaborating with other departments to make use of equipment and expertise that are often overlooked or underutilized. 


  • Watson, C.M. & G. Francis. 2015. Three dimensional printing as an effective method of producing anatomically accurate models for studies in thermal ecology. Journal of Thermal Biology 51. 42-46.