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My research addresses questions about the ecology and evolution of organisms. My approach is to generate comparative data from the field and lab, using both modern and traditional techniques. Data sources for my research come from museum specimens, genomic DNA, brains, and field sites.





I am interested in the natural and life history of animals, and what they can tell us about the ecology of various species. This research is based on a combination of dissection and measurement of museum specimens and mark-recapture methods of wild animals. By studying the ecology of species in both field and lab, we can gain important insights into how they can be managed and conserved in a changing world. This research program is based upon reliable access to field sites and museum specimens from collections (see below).


Sites include:

  • Powdermill Nature Reserve, Pennsylvania, USA

  • Doña Ana County, New Mexico, USA

  • Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda, Africa


Collections include:

  • Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pennsylvania, USA

  • Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C., USA

  • UTEP Biodiversity Collections, Texas, USA

Featured articles:


Hughes, D.F., P.R. Delis, and W.E. Meshaka Jr. 2018. Studies of a snake assemblage from artificial ponds at an active-military site in Pennsylvania. Herpetology Notes 11: 35–48.


Hughes, D.F., W.E. Meshaka, Jr., and P.R. Delis. 2017. Reproduction and growth of the Southern Leopard Frog, Lithobates sphenocephalus (Cope, 1886), in Virginia: Implications for seasonal shifts in response to global climate change. Basic and Applied Herpetology 31: 17–31.


Hughes, D.F., A.K. Tegeler, and W.E. Meshaka Jr. 2016. Differential use of ponds and movements by two species of aquatic turtles (Chrysemys picta marginata and Chelydra serpentina serpentina) and their role in colonization. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 11(1): 214–231.


Investigations into the geographic distribution of genetic diversity have vastly improved our understanding of biodiversity and evolution. I use molecular data in combination with morphological measurements to test biogeographical hypotheses and document diversity. This research is based on traditional exploration and field work combined with a modern molecular and bioinformatics lab. I have spent many months in the field and collected numerous museum specimens, and when used with their associated genetic material, we have discovered novel diversity and species-specific responses to biogeographic barriers.


Uganda, Africa

  • 49 days July – August 2016

  • 61 days May – July 2015

  • 18 days May – July 2014

Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa

  • 38 days May – July 2014

Curaçao, Caribbean

  • 11 days January 2013

Florida, USA

  • 10 days March 2012

Featured articles:



Hughes, D.F., K.A. Tolley, W. Lukwago, M. Menegon, J.M. Dehling, J. Stipala, C.R. Tilbury, A.M. Khan, M. Behangana, C. Kusamba, and E. Greenbaum. 2018. Cryptic diversity in Rhampholeon boulengeri (Sauria: Chamaeleonidae), a pygmy chameleon from the Albertine Rift biodiversity hotspot. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 122: 125–141.


Portillo, F., W.R. Branch, W. Conradie, M.-O. Rödel, J. Penner, M.F. Barej, C. Kusamba, W.M. Muninga, M.M. Aristote, A.M. Bauer, J.-F. Trape, Z.T. Nagy, P. Carlino, O.S.G. Pauwels, M. Menegon, M. Burger, T. Mazuch, K. Jackson, D.F. Hughes, M. Behangana, A.-G. Zassi-Boulou, and E. Greenbaum. 2018. Phylogeny and biogeography of the African burrowing snake subfamily Aparallactinae (Squamata: Lamprophiidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 127: 288–303.


Hughes, D.F., C. Kusamba, M. Behangana, and E. Greenbaum. 2017. Integrative taxonomy of the Central African forest chameleon, Kinyongia adolfifriderici (Sauria, Chamaeleonidae), reveals underestimated species diversity in the Albertine Rift. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 181: 400–438.


My research aims to identify neural traits that vary or are conserved across species with known behavioral differences. I attempt to address questions in comparative neurobiology by interpreting neural differences within the backdrop of a mapped phylogeny. Within this context, there is a salient lack of species diversity for which the brain has been characterized to the extent that comparative investigations can be made. Thus I emphasize species groups for which the neuroanatomy is poorly known, and approach these studies from micro- to macroscopic scales of analysis. This work could not be done without collaboration from Dr. Arshad M. Khan (UTEP) and Dr. Paul M. Gignac (OK State University).

Featured article:



Hughes, D.F., E.M. Walker, P.M. Gignac, A. Martinez, K. Negishi, C.S. Lieb, E. Greenbaum, and A.M. Khan. 2016. Rescuing perishable neuroanatomical information from a threatened Biodiversity Hotspot: Remote field methods for brain tissue preservation validated by cytoarchitectonic analysis, immunohistochemistry, and x‐ray microcomputed tomography. PLoS ONE 11(5): e0155824.


Featured presentations:



Hughes, D.F., P.M. Gignac, E. Greenbaum, and A.M. Khan. 2018. Field-Based brain tissue preservation methods and comparative multi-scale structural analyses reveal the cranial diversity of chameleons to the Neuroanatomy session at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) at the Marriot Marquis in San Francisco, California, USA


Hughes, D.F., P.M. Gignac and A.M. Khan. 2016. Incorporating diceCT into multi-scale structural studies of the brain for highly divergent lineages of acrodont lizards: Validation of preservation methods conducted in the field. Presented to the 11th International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology meeting in Washington D.C., USA

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