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2019 Project Proposal

Do amphibian embryos exhibit adaptive developmental plasticity in high salinity environments?

Erica Crespi (Biology) & Myra Hughey (Biology)

The run-off of deicing road salts is elevating salinity of freshwater wetlands, which negatively affects the survival of amphibian embryos. However, embryos may live if they can increase the osmoregulatory capacity of skin during early development. We will test the hypothesis that embryos increase the percentage of cells that differentiate into ionocytes or mucus-secreting cells in elevated salinity conditions to increase their survival. This study is part of an NSF-funded project investigating effects of road salt run-off on the health of wood frogs, a species that breeds in road-side ponds in the Northeastern United States. To test this hypothesis, we will determine whether the percentage of cells that differentiate into ionocytes or mucus-secreting cells increases with exposure to higher salt. We use fluorescent markers that are specific to each epidermal cell type, visualized with confocal microscopy to quantify the percentage of cells types. This will be the first study to determine a developmental mechanism through which amphibian embryos exhibit adaptive plasticity in response to salinity stress. A student will be working under the supervision of Dr. Hughey and Dr. Erica Crespi, a visiting scholar from Washington State University, but will also help other researchers on the road-salt project working with Dr. Hughey.

Prerequisites: BIOL106 is required, with at least one 200-level biology course preferred.  Must be interested in amphibian conservation.

How should students express interest in this project? Interested students should contact Myra Hughey and Erica Crespi by email ( and, indicating why you are interested in this project and ask any questions that come to mind. Please also briefly describe any relevant experience that you may have. We will then set a time to meet for an interview.