Nick Gladstone - Cave Critters are Cool!
I am a first-year graduate student within the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. My thesis research involves diagnosing the cryptic diversity and phylogeographic structure of cave-obligate land snails. However, I am broadly interested in the ecology, evolution and conservation of cave organisms. I was introduced to the study of these animals (i.e., speleobiology) in the latter half of my undergraduate career, and it continues to fascinate me as both a scientist and an avid naturalist. Since that introduction, I have taken part in many biological inventories of caves in Tennessee, hoping to assist in documenting and preserving the often-neglected fauna that dwell beneath our feet. I find that subterranean systems are useful models in addressing foundational questions in ecology and evolutionary biology, and that the organisms that inhabit such systems are wonderfully unique. Being able to study these animals and provide a platform for their conservation is a valued opportunity, and I aim to continue to do so into my professional career.
I primarily work with land snails for my research. However, the first cave animal I was drawn to work with was the Berry Cave Salamander (seen here)! Years later, and here I am getting to work with them a bit! I have been assisting Dr. Matthew Niemiller at the University of Alabama in Huntsville to determine the conservation status of known populations of this vulnerable species, in addition to estimating life history and demographic parameters of a few of these populations (growth rates, habitat preferences, etc.). Dr. Niemiller has definitely acted as a guiding hand in getting me involved with working in caves, and his research is very wide-reaching and inclusive to many topics and organisms (invertebrates need love too).