Assistant Professor of Biology

B.S. – University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

M.S. – Washington State University

Ph.D. – Oregon State University

Postdoctoral Research – Monell Chemical Senses Center


Phone - 540-568-5116

Fax – 540-568-3333

Office – Bioscience 2016G

Office Hours

: Human Physiology (BIO 270), , Reproductive Physiology (BIO 426), Advanced Topics in Cellular and Molecular Biology (BIO 630)

Research Interests:  Pheromones, Chemical Ecology, Sexual Signals, Animal Behavior, Invasive Species, Endocrinology, Chemical Senses, Reptiles

Hormonal modulation of pheromone production – The main focus of my research is to develop an understanding of how sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone regulate the production of sexual signals used in mate choice. I use snakes as a model group of vertebrates in my studies because snakes rely almost exclusively on chemical cues (pheromones) to identify and choose between mates. Further, snakes are great study subjects because their behaviors are easily scored and analyzed. My research uses classical endocrinology techniques like castration and hormone replacement to effect change in animal behavior and chemical signals. I also use analytical chemistry techniques (fractionation, GC-MS) to quantify these changes.

My lab is currently determining a) which hormone-responsive genes in the skin control pheromone production and b) how hormone dosing can alter pheromone production in females and males. Students in my lab are actively involved in the extraction and analysis of specific genes, isolation of pheromones, animal care, surgical manipulations, field work, and behavioral studies with this project. Our major effort each year is driving to Manitoba, Canada, to conduct behavioral experiments at the snake dens in May and then running experiments at JMU after.

Chemical ecology of mate choice in invasive reptiles –My Ph.D. work enabled new collaborations with federal agencies that started with researchers at USDA (Drs. Michael Avery and Bruce Kimball) to determine the chemical signals used by invasive reptiles to find mates. With Dr. Kimball (NWRC-USDA, Monell), we are studying brown treesnakes, an invasive reptile on the island of Guam. We have discovered that estrogen can cause male treesnakes to produce female lipids, and we are currently planning additional experiments to study how wild males use female scent in the field. Students on this project isolate chemical cues, assist with hormone manipulations, and conduct behavioral analysis.

With Dr. Avery and Dr. Michael Grace (Florida Institute of Technology), my lab has been isolating chemical cues in Burmese pythons by extracting and identifying the lipids produced in their shed skins. Pythons are an invasive species of concern in the Florida Everglades, and we are determining if the cues we can isolate from their skins are a) sexually dimorphic, b) seasonally variable, c) attractive to conspecifics, and d) useful in management strategies. Recently, I have started a new collaboration with Drs. Bob Reed and Bryan Falk (USGS) to implant male pythons with estrogen and track their interactions with other males in the field. Students in my lab are isolating chemical cues from the pythons and analyzing behavioral data from trials done in Gainesville. Also with Dr. Avery, we have started a project with Argentine tegu lizards, another invasive reptile in Florida, and we are examining similar questions as with the Burmese pythons.

Research Articles (# indicates student author)

Parker MR, Kardong KV. 2017. Airborne chemical information and context-dependent post-strike foraging behavior in Pacific rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus). Copeia 105:651–658.

Smith KPW#, Parker MR, Bien WF. 2015. Behavioral variation in prey odor responses in northern pine snake neonates and adults. Chemoecology 25:233–242.

Prokop-Prigge KA, Grice E, Mansfield CJ, Parker MR, Thaler E, Wysocki CJ, Preti G. 2015. Ethnic/racial and genetic influences on cerumen odorant profiles. Journal of Chemical Ecology 41:67–74. PMID:25501636

Parker MR, Mason RT. 2014. A novel mechanism regulating a sexual signal: the testosterone-based inhibition of female sex pheromone expression in garter snakes. Hormones and Behavior 66:506–516. PMID:25058443

Parker MR, Feng D#, Chamuris B#, Margolskee RF. 2014. Expression and nuclear translocation of glucocorticoid receptors in type 2 taste receptor cells. Neuroscience Letters 151:72–77. PMID:2481458

Mosinger B, Redding KM, Parker MR, Yevshayeva V, Yee KY, Dyomina K, Li Y, Margolskee RF. 2013. Genetic loss or pharmacological blockade of testes-expressed taste genes causes male sterility. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110:12319–12324. PMID:23818598

Smith KPW#, Parker MR, Bien WF. 2013. Anaxyrus fowleri (Fowler's toad): interspecific nest use. Herpetological Review. 44:492–493.

Ellis HT, Tordoff MT, Parker MR. 2012. Itpr3 is responsible for the mouse tufted (tf) locus. Journal of Heredity 104:295–297. PMID:23100490

Parker MR, Mason RT. 2012. How to make a sexy snake: estrogen activation of sex pheromone production in male garter snakes. Journal of Experimental Biology 215:723–730. PMID:22323194

Mason RT, Parker MR. 2010. Chemical and pheromonal communication in reptiles. Journal of Comparative Physiology A 196:729–749. PMID:20585786

Parker MR, Mason RT. 2009. Low temperature dormancy affects the quantity and quality of the female sexual attractiveness pheromone in red-sided garter snakes. Journal of Chemical Ecology 35:1234–1241. PMID:19904571

Parker MR, Young BA, Kardong KV. 2008. The forked tongue and edge detection in snakes: an experimental test. Journal of Comparative Psychology 122:35–40. PMID:18298279

Parker MR, Kardong KV. 2006. The role of airborne and substrate cues from non-envenomated mice during rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) post-strike trailing. Herpetologica 62:349–356.

Book Chapters

Rowland H*, Parker MR*, Jiang P, Reed DR, Beauchamp G. 2015. Comparative taste biology with special focus on birds and reptiles. In Handbook of Olfaction and Gustation, 4th edition (R Doty, ed.), pp. 959–984. Wiley Publishers, New York. (* co-first authors)

Parker MR, Mason RT. 2011. Pheromones in snakes: history, patterns and future directions. In Reproductive Biology and Phylogeny of Snakes (D Sever and R Aldridge, eds.), pg. 551–572. CRC Press, Enfield, NJ.

Parker MR, Kardong KV. 2005. Rattlesnakes can use airborne cues to relocate envenomated prey. In Chemical Signals in Vertebrates, Vol. 10 (RT Mason, MP LeMaster and D Mueller-Schwarze, ed.), pp. 397–402.  Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York

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