Date of Award

Spring 2021

Project Type


Program or Major

Biological Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Carrie Hall

Second Advisor

Melissa Aikens

Third Advisor

Daniel Howard


Organisms exhibit suites of life history traits which enable them to respond to environmental stimuli and increase fitness. However, the relationship between organism traits and the environment is not unidirectional, rather they are in a state of constant interaction. To further our understanding of the interactions between the environment and organism phenotypes, this dissertation focuses on a group of insect scavengers, the burying beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae: Nicrophorus) which utilize carrion to initiate reproduction and feed developing young. Here I apply ecological and molecular methodologies to demonstrate that behaviors provide an important ecological service by sequestering carrion in forest ecosystems. I also suggest that the physiological processes coordinating the onset of oogenesis is mediated by nutritional cues and demonstrate that these same hormones are differentially transferred to eggs depending on species level differences in the provisioning of post-hatch parental care. This dissertation demonstrates the interconnectedness amongst various ecological themes by showing how organism physiology and behavior contribute to organism life history traits, and how these same traits contribute to ecosystem processes. In addition, this dissertation demonstrates that the integration of ecologically themed science experiments into the classroom improves student scientific process self-efficacy.