Russell L. Burke
Professor of Biology
Degrees: PHD, 1994, Univ Michigan Ann Arbor; MS, 1987, Univ Florida; BS, 1981, Ohio State Univ
Dr. Burke is primarily interested in the ecology, evolution, and conservation biology of turtles and lizards. Most of the species he has studied have either been introduced species or rare species, thus population control (both positive and negative) is usually involved. The other main topic of his research in turtles is that of sex determination, both environmental and genotypic.
Currently, he has three major research projects: diamondback terrapins at nearby Jamaica Bay, wood turtles in northern New Jersey, and wall lizards on Long Island. The terrapins face a number of interesting conservation issues, including decreasing salt marsh habitat, pollutants in the Bay, raccoon and plant predation on eggs, and rat predation on hatchlings. The Jamaica Bay terrapin population is huge, making it a great place to study the evolution of temperature sex determination. The wood turtle research takes place in a fairly pristine area complete with beavers and black bear, making it a great place to study their behavior under somewhat natural conditions. Wood turtles have genotypic sex determination and therefore provide a good comparison for similar work on terrapins, which have temperature sex determination.
Italian wall lizards were introduced to Long Island from a pet shop in Garden City in 1967. The population now numbers in the thousands and is spreading rapidly in Nassau county and elsewhere on Long Island. Burke's lab have investigated the freeze tolerance, food habits, parasite load, reproductive cycling, survivorship, seasonal behavior and diel behavior of this population. They are not freeze tolerant, and so must overwinter below the freeze line. Their food habits closely parallel their relatives in Italy, and show some sex-specific specialization. They are nearly free of gut parasites, but totally free of blood parasites. They seem to mature faster and more often than their relatives in Italy, which is surprising because they are active for a smaller portion of the year and for less time each day. These lizards are great models for studies of invasive species.
His courses at Hofstra include Ecology, Evolution, Behavior, Conservation Biology and Herpetology.