The research program in my lab draws upon the fields of animal behavior, physiology, ecology, and evolution, and so we almost always take an integrative approach to our questions. We are most interested in animal behavior at multiple spatial and temporal scales and the underlying physiological mechanisms that mediate those behaviors. We are not restricted to any particular taxonomic group, although thus far, most of the experimental studies on behaviour and endocrine mechanisms involve herpetofauna and the landscape-level studies of animal movement ecology focus on mammals.
In our lab, we consider the premise that animals live in a dangerous and challenging world as the driving force behind the types of questions we tackle.
For example, how do animals behaviourally and physiologically adjust to environmental disturbances? Do these macrophysiological patterns and phenotypic trait complexes vary across space and time? Given that most ecological studies of the physiological stress response are still predominantly based on the avian or laboratory mammalian paradigms, I emphasize field studies with reptiles. In doing so, we are able to examine variation in stress responses and phenotypic trait complexes of populations where the social conditions, physical environment, and phylogenetic history generate interesting combinations of selective pressures.
At larger scales, we are also interested in competition, coexistence, and decision making of animals. For example, what landscape-scale movement decisions do African elephants make to maximize resource acquisition and minimize thermoregulatory stress? How do mesocarnivores compete and coexist in human-dominated landscapes? For these kinds of questions, we use movement ecology to determine how animals solve the challenge of sharing a complex and dynamic landscape with other competitors.
Vanak AT, Fortin, D, Thaker M, Owen C, Lehmann M, Greatwood S, Slotow R. 2013. Moving to stay in place - behavioral mechanisms for coexistence of large African carnivores. Ecology. 94:2619–2631.
Jorge, AA, Vanak AT, Thaker M, Begg C, Slotow R, 2013. Costs and benefits of the presence of leopards to the sport hunting industry and local communities in Niassa National Reserve, Mozambique. Conservation Biology. 27: 832-843.
Vanak AT, Shannon G, Thaker M, Page B, Grant R, and Slotow R. 2012. Biocomplexity in large tree mortality: interactions between elephant, fire and landscape in an African savanna. Ecography. 35: 315-321
Thaker M, Vanak AT, Owen C, Lehmann M, Greatwood S, Slotow R. 2011. Behavioral strategies to minimize predation risk in a landscape of multiple predators. Ecology. 92(2): 398-407.
Vanak, AT, Thaker M, Slotow S. 2010. Do fences create an edge effect on the movement patterns of a highly mobile mega-herbivore? Biological Conservation. 143: 2631-2637.
Thaker M, Hews DK and Lima SL. 2010. Stress and aversive learning in a wild vertebrate: the role of corticosterone in mediating escape from a novel stressor. The American Naturalist. 175: 50-60.
Thaker M, Hews DK and Lima SL. 2009. Alternative antipredator tactics in tree lizards: hormonal and behavioural responses to a predator encounter. Animal Behaviour 77:235-401.
Gumm JM and Thaker M. 2009. Association preferences of unisexual Amazon mollies (Poecilia formosa): differential response to swords based on sex of the bisexual parental species. Behaviour 146:907-921.