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Cynthia Kicklighter

Associate Professor, Biology

Hoffberger Science Building G36


B.S., Marine Science and Biology, University of Miami
Ph.D., Georgia Institute of Technology

Areas of Scholarly Expertise and Interest

Ecology of Predator-Prey Interactions

Recent Publications/Presentations/Performances

*Hendricks, L.G., *Mossop, H.E., and Kicklighter, C.E. 2011. Palatability and chemical defense of Phragmites australis to the marsh periwinkle snail Litoraria irrorata. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 37: 838-845. *undergraduate students

Kicklighter, C.E., Kamio, M., Nguyen, L., Germann, M.W., and Derby, CD. 2011. Mycosporine-like amino acids are multifunctional molecules in sea hares and their marine community. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 108: 11494-11499.

Kamio, M., Kicklighter, C.E., Nguyen, L., Germann, M.W., and Derby, C.D. 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: 1012-1018.

Kicklighter, C.E. 2011. Chemical defences against predators. In: Chemical Ecology in Aquatic Systems. Bronmark, C. and Hansson, L. Oxford University Press. Pgs. 236-249.

Kicklighter, C.E., Kamio, M., Germann, M., and Derby, C.D. 2007. Molecular identification of alarm cues in the defensive decretions of the sea hare Aplysia californica. Animal Behaviour. 74: 1481-1492.


Predation is a major force affecting the distribution and abundance of organisms and influencing population and community properties. How communities are organized and maintained is fundamental to understanding ecosystem function. Thus, investigating how potential prey species deter predation and herbivory yields insight into selective pressures that have shaped populations and species, as well as the major processes affecting community structure and composition.

Kicklighter’s research focuses on the use of chemical defenses by prey species to deter predation. Kicklighter and her students are investigating chemical defenses in Chesapeake Bay marsh plants, which deter grazing by snails. In brackish areas of the Chesapeake Bay, the three most common marsh plants are Spartina alterniflora (smooth cord grass), Schoenoplectus robustus (saltmarsh bulrush), and Phragmites australis australis (common reed). Marsh periwinkle snails (Littoraria irrorata) readily feed on Spartina, but they are deterred from feeding on Schoenoplectus and Phragmites due to the chemical defenses these plants possess. Current research is focused on isolating and identifying these chemical defenses and investigating the environmental factors that may influence the production of these chemicals. Phragmites is an invasive species and is now the dominant marsh plant in many areas of the Chesapeake Bay. Whether its chemical defense deters herbivores in addition to periwinkle snails and whether lack of herbivory contributes to its success in the bay are under investigation.

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