Cynthia E. Kicklighter
Associate Professor, Biology (2006)
Hoffberger Science Building G36
B.S., Marine Science and Biology, University of Miami
Ph.D., Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology
Areas of Scholarly Expertise and Interest
Ecology of Predator-Prey Interactions
Much of the Chesapeake Bay is lined with wetland grasses known as marshes, which are very important ecological communities, as they buffer coastlines from waves and erosion, filter sediments and nutrients from the ocean, and provide a nursery habitat to many young organisms. Unfortunately, marshes in the Bay, and worldwide, are threatened by various factors, including pollution, development, and invasive species. Phragmites australis subspecies australis is an aggressive invasive marsh grass in the salt marshes and coastlands of the Chesapeake, as well as in many other parts of the country. Because Phragmites is so competitive, it has replaced native plant species in the Bay. Thus, the abundance of Phragmites is increasing, while the number of native plants is decreasing. Despite the growing prevalence of Phragmites, little is known about how it has been incorporated into the Chesapeake Bay marsh food web.
My research in the Chesapeake Bay investigates feeding on Phragmites by Chesapeake Bay herbivores. Investigations on the periwinkle marsh snail Littoraria irrorata with undergraduate students have revealed that snails consume little Phragmites due to its chemical defense. This appears to be an induced defense, meaning that when snails start to graze on Phragmites, it increases the production of its defensive chemicals, causing snails to reduce their feeding on the plant. Work on isolating and identifying the chemical defense is underway, in addition to identifying the environmental factors that may influence production of the chemical defense. This research will contribute to a better understanding of Chesapeake Bay marsh communities. Because snails do not readily feed on Phragmites, as the abundance of Phragmites increases, the abundance of snails may decrease. This, in turn, may impact iconic Chesapeake Bay species that consume snails, such as the blue crab and diamond back terrapin.
Kicklighter CE (2012) Chemical Defenses Against Predators. In: Chemical Ecology in Aquatic Systems. Oxford University Press, Cary, USA.
Hay ME and Kicklighter CE (2012) Grazing, effects of biodiversity, Pp. 8-17. In: The Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, 2nd Ed. Oxford University Press, Burlington, USA.
*Hendricks LG, *Mossop HE and Kicklighter CE (2011) Palatability and chemical defense of Phragmites australis to the marsh periwinkle snail Littoraria irrorata. J. Chem. Ecol. 37: 838-845.
Kicklighter CE, Kamio M, Nguyen L, Germann MW and Derby CD (2011) Mycosporine-like amino acids are multifunctional molecules in sea hares and their marine community. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. (USA) 108: 11,494-11,499.
Kamio M, Kicklighter CE, Nguyen L, Germann MW and Derby CD (2011) Isolation and structural elucidation of novel mycosporine-like amino acids as alarm cues in the defensive ink secretion of the sea hare Aplysia californica. Helvetica Chimica Acta 94: 1,012-1,018.
Kicklighter CE (2011) Chemical defences against predators. In: Chemical Ecology in Aquatic Systems. Bronmark C and Hansson L (eds.), Oxford University Press. Pp: 236-249.
Kicklighter CE, Kamio M, Germann M and Derby CD (2007) Molecular identification of alarm cues in the defensive secretions of the sea hare Aplysia californica. Animal Behaviour 74: 1,481-1,492.
* undergraduate student co-authors
Invited Lectures/Presentations at Professional Meetings
Kicklighter CE, Phragmites australis: A toxic intruder. Nature and Nosh
Speaker Series, Anita C. Leight Estuary Center, Abingdon, MD, 2014
*Locke HE and Kicklighter CE, Efforts toward the elucidation of the chemical defense of Phragmites
australis against grazing by the Periwinkle Snail Littoraria irrorata. Benthic Ecology Meeting,
Savannah, GA, 2013
Truitt, L. and Kicklighter, C. An Investigation of herbivory on the invasive grass Phragmites australis subspecies australis. Landmark Summer Research Conference, Susquehanna College, 2013
Kicklighter CE, *Hearl MK, and *Locke HE, The effects of nutrients and grazing on the estuarine
marsh invader, Phragmites australis. Ecological Society of America Meeting, Portland, OR, 2012
Locke H and Kicklighter CE, Efforts in the elucidation of the chemical defense of Phragmites australis
against herbivory by the Periwinkle Snail Littoraria irrorata. Landmark Summer Research
Conference, Moravian College, 2012
Privett, A and Kicklighter CE, Factors affecting periwinkle snail feeding on two natives and on
invasive Chesapeake Bay marsh plants. Landmark Summer Research Conference, Moravian College,
Kicklighter CE, Palatability and defense of Chesapeake Bay marsh plants. Smithsonian Environmental
Research Center Seminar Series, Edgewater, MD, 2012.
Recent Student Research Projects
Lydia Truitt (2015): An investigation of herbivory on the invasive grass Phragmites australis subspecies australis
Hannah Locke (2013): Efforts in the elucidation of the chemical defense of Phragmites australis against herbivory by the periwinkle snail Littoraria irrorata
Ashley Privett (2013): Factors affecting periwinkle snail feeding on two natives and one invasive Chesapeake Bay marsh plants
Kathleen Hearl (2011): The effects of nutrients and grazing on the estuarine marsh invader, Phragmites australis
Christine Beggs (2010): Factors influencing palatability differences between Phragmites populations to Littoraria irrorata
Biological Diversity I Lecture and Laboratory
Biological Diversity II Laboratory
Ecology and Evolution
Field Ecology Laboratory
Marine Ecology Seminar
Tropical Marine Biology in Honduras