College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

Karen R. Lips

Karen Lips, associate professor




Office Phone: (301) 405-5030

Skype: karenlips

Twitter: @kwren88 

Fax: (301) 314-9358

Mail Address: Room 1210 Biology-Psychology Building

Graduate Program Affiliations

  • Sustainable Development & Conservation Biology (CONS)
  • Behavior, Ecology, Evolution, & Systematics (BEES)
  • Marine Estuarine and Environmental Sciences (MEES)

Research Interests

The work of my lab is focused on the conservation and ecology of amphibians (and reptiles), with interests at multiple scales – including population, community, and ecosystems – especially as they are affected by emerging infectious disease and global change.  In my lab we have three major research sites: Panama, Illinois, and Appalachia.  Much of this work is multidisciplinary, involving various collaborators from various fields. Many of the Lab’s projects examine the interactions among amphibian hosts (tropical frogs, Illinois amphibians and Appalachian salamanders), the frog-killing fungus, and the environment to determine why some species decline, some go extinct, and others are not affected.  Another group of projects determines the ecological impacts of amphibian population declines on other components of the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems (TADS).  A third group of interests involves science communication, policy and educational outreach (Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, CONS Program) aspects of these scientific projects.

Population Biology and Community Ecology
My research interests center on the population biology and community ecology of amphibians.  I am particularly interested in determining the spatiotemporal variation in diversity and abundance of amphibians in various communities, studying comparative population demography, and quantifying the role of adult and larval amphibians in tropical and temperate ecosystems.  Most of my recent research involves field work across the Appalachians to quantify variation in species richness, abundance and ecology in the context of global change.  My historic research focuses on comparative ecology of diverse tropical faunas with the goal of using these data to understand differential patterns of decline.

A. Host-pathogen Ecology
We have been working on determining the geographic and ecological patterns of amphibian declines in our three study areas.  By analyzing patterns of decline among species and across many sites, we hope to predict future declines of other populations at other sites and to prioritize research and conservation actions.  In Latin America, amphibian populations have suffered tremendous losses, many of which were apparently caused by disease from an aquatic frog-killing fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (“Bd”).  Bd is present in Illinois, but the effects on populations are not known. In both regions we are studying the prevalence of Bd in natural populations of amphibians and how ecology and environmental conditions vary individual and population responses to the fungus.

B.  Climate Change
In the Appalachians areas we are interested in understanding how disease and climate change may have affected population biology and community composition of plethodontid salamanders.  We have established a 400 km long transect from MD to NC along which we have been surveying populations and communities.  We are interested in quantifying changes in those parameters and determining whether disease and/or climate are involved in observed changes.  Lab members are working on quantifying disease, symbiotic microbes, and climate change across communities and population ranges.

C.  Ecosystem Ecology
Given the abundance and diversity of frogs and tadpoles at tropical sites, the dual role of amphibians in the food web (insectivorous adults and herbivorous tadpoles), and the bimodal life cycle (terrestrial adults and aquatic larvae) the loss of a large portion of the amphibian biomass might have big impacts on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. As part of an interdisciplinary team, we compared tropical mountain stream foodweb structure pre-and post-decline to determine the impact of amphibian declines on these ecosystems.  We conducted small-scale removal experiments, quantified spatio-temporal variation in adult and larval amphibian assemblages, and are quantifying the trophic links among amphibians, lizards and snakes.

Recent Publications

Martel, A., M. Blooi, C. Adriaensen, P. Van Rooij, W. Beukema, M.C. Fisher, R. Farrer, B. Schmidt, U. Tobler, K. Goka, K. Lips, C. Muletz, K. Zamudio, J. Bosch, S. Lötters, E. Wombwell, T.W.J. Garner, A. Cunningham, A. Spitzen-van der Sluijs, S. Salvidio, R. Ducatelle1, K.  Nishikawa, T.T. Nguyen, J. Kolby, I. Van Bocxlaer, F. Bossuyt, F. Pasmans. 2014. Recent introduction of a chytrid fungus endangers western Palearctic salamanders.  Science DOI:  10.1126/science.1258268

Ellison, A. R., Savage, A. E., DiRenzo, G. V., Langhammer, P., Lips, K.R., and Zamudio, K. R.  2014. Fighting a losing battle: vigorous immune response countered by pathogen suppression of host defenses in a chytridiomycosis-susceptible frog. G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics doi: 10.1534/g3.114.010744.

Muletz, C., N. M. Caruso, R. C. Fleischer, R. W. McDiarmid, K R. Lips. 2014. Unexpected Rarity of the Pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in Appalachian Plethodon Salamanders: 1957–2011. PLOSOne.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103728

Langhammer, P.F. P.A. Burrowes, K. R. Lips, A. Bryant, J.P. Collins. 2014. Susceptibility to the amphibian chytrid fungus varies with ontogeny in the direct-developing frog Eleutherodactylus coqui. Journal of Wildlife Disease 

Ellison, A. R., Savage, A. E., DiRenzo, G. V., Langhammer, P., Lips, K.R., and Zamudio, K. R.  2014. Fighting a losing battle: vigorous immune response countered by pathogen suppression of host defenses in a chytridiomycosis-susceptible frog. G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics.

Caruso, N. M., M. W. Sears, D. C. Adams, K. R. Lips. 2014. Widespread rapid reductions in body size of salamanders in response to climate change. Global Change Biology.

DiRenzo, G., P. F Langhammer, K. R Zamudio, K. R Lips.  2014. Fungal infection intensity and zoospore output of Atelopus zeteki, a potential chytrid supershedder.  PLOS One.

Lips, Karen R.  2014. A tale of two lineages: unexpected, long-term persistence of the amphibian-killing fungus in Brazil.  Journal of Molecular Ecology DOI: 10.1111/mec.12651

Frauendorf, T. C., C. Colon-Gaud, M. R. Whiles, T. R. Barnum, K. R. Lips, C. M. Pringle, and S. S. Kilham.  (Accepted). Energy flow and the trophic basis of macroinvertebrate and amphibian production in a neotropical stream food web. Freshwater Biology.

Langhammer, P. F., K. R. Lips, P. A. Burrowes, T. Tunstall, C. M. Palmer, J. P. Collins. 2013. A fungal pathogen of amphibians, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, declines in pathogenicity with in vitro passages. PLOS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077630

McCaffery, R. M. and K. R. Lips.  2013. Survival and abundance in the glass frog Espadarana (Centrolene) prosoblepon prior to a disease outbreak. Journal of Herpetology 47: 162168.

Barnum, T. R., S. S. Kilham, P. Verburg, M. R. Whiles, K. R. Lips, C. Colón-Gaud, and C. M. Pringle. 2013. Using stable isotope ratios to characterize potential shifts in the isotopic niches of four insect grazers following amphibian (tadpole) extirpations in a Neotropical stream. Journal of Tropical Biology 29: 291299.

Caruso, N.M. and K. R. Lips.  2012.  Truly enigmatic declines in terrestrial salamander populations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Diversity and Distributions DOI: 10.1111/j.1472-4642.2012.00938.

Kiemnec-Tyburczy, K. M., Richmond, J. Q., A. E. Savage, K. R. Lips, and K. R. Zamudio. 2012. Genetic diversity of MHC class I loci in six non-model frog families is shaped by positive selection and gene duplication. Heredity 109(3): 14655. doi: 10.1038/hdy.2012.22

Miller, D.A.W., B. L. Talley, K. R. Lips, and E. H. C. Grant.  2012.  Detection matters in wildlife epidemiological studies: accounting for sensitivity when estimating disease parameters. Methods in Ecology and Evolution doi: 10.1111/j.2041-210X.2012.00216.x

Whiles, M., R. O. Hall, Jr., W. K. Dodds, P. Verburg, A. D. Huryn, C. M. Pringle, K. R. Lips, S. S. Kilham, C. Colon-Gaud, A. Rugenski, S. Peterson, and S. Connelly.  2012. Disease-driven amphibian declines alter ecosystem processes in tropical streams. Ecosystems. DOI: 10.1007/s10021-012-9602-7

Crawford, A.J., C. Cruz, E. Griffith, H. Ross, R. Ibáñez, K. R. Lips, A. C. Driskell, E. Bermingham and Paul Crump. 2012.  DNA barcoding applied to ex situ tropical amphibian conservation programme reveals cryptic diversity in captive populationsMolecular Ecology Resources. DOI: 10.1111/1755-0998.1205

Ray, J.M., C. E. Montgomery, H. K. Mahon, A. H. Savitzky, K. R. Lips. 2012. Goo-Eaters: Diets of the Neotropical Snakes Dipsas and Sibon in central Panama.  Copeia 2: 197203.

Kiemnec-Tyburczy, K. M., Richmond, J. Q., A. E. Savage, K. R. Lips, and K. R. Zamudio. 2012. Genetic diversity of MHC class I loci in six non-model frog families is shaped by positive selection and gene duplication. Heredity.

Lips, K. R.  2011.  Museum collections: mining the past to manage the future. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA. doi:10.1073/pnas.1107246108.

Connelly, S., C. M. Pringle, M. R. Whiles, K. R. Lips, S. S Kilham, and R. Brenes. 2011. Do tadpoles affect leaf decomposition in neotropical streams?  Freshwater Biology 56: 18631875 doi:10.1111/j.1365-2427.2011.02626.x

Velo-Antón, G., D. Rodríguez, A. E. Savage, G. Parra-Olea, K. R. Lips, K. R. Zamudio.  2011. Amphibian-killing fungus loses genetic diversity as it spreads across the New World.  Biological Conservation. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2011.12.003

Montgomery, C. E., K. R. Lips, and J. M. Ray.  2011. Ontogentic shift in sleeping perch height in Cope’s vine snake, Oxybelis brevirostris. The Southwestern Naturalist 56(3): 358–362. doi:

Montgomery, C.E., E. J. Griffith Rodriquez, H. L. Ross, and K.R. Lips.  2011. Communal nesting in the anoline lizard Norops lionotus (Polychrotidae) in central Panama. The Southwestern Naturalist 56(1): 83-88.

Ryan, M. J., K. R. Lips and J. T. Giermakowski.  2010.  A new species of Pristimantis (Anura: Terrarana: Strabomantinae) from Lower Central America. Journal of Herpetology 44(2): 193200.

Crawford, A. J., K. R. Lips, and E. Bermingham.  2010.  Epidemic disease reduces evolutionary diversity of amphibians. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 107(31): 1377713782.

Colon-Gaud, J., M. R. Whiles, R. Brenes, S. S. Kilham, K. R. Lips, C. M. Pringle, S. Connelly, and S. D. Peterson. 2010.  Functional redundancy and resource facilitation between tadpoles and insect grazers. Freshwater Biology. 55: 20772088.

Colon-Gaud, C., M. Whiles, K. Lips, C. Pringle, S. Kilham, S. Connelly, R. Brenes, and S. Peterson. 2010.  Stream invertebrate responses to a catastrophic decline in consumer diversity.  Journal of the North American Benthological Society 29(4): 11851198.

Ryan, M. J., J. M. Savage, and K. R. Lips, and J. Tomasz Giermakowski.  2010. A New Species of the Craugastor rugulosus series (Anura: Craugastoridae) from West-Central Panama.  Copeia 2010(3): 405409.

Smith, K. G.  K. R. Lips, and J. Chase.  2009.  Epidemic disease homogenizes amphibian communities.  Ecology Letters 12: 1069–1078.

Colon-Gaud, C., M. R. Whiles, S. S Kilham, K. R. Lips, C. M. Pringle, S. Connelly, and S. D. Peterson.  2009.  Assessing ecological responses to catastrophic amphibian declines: patterns of macroinvertebrate production and food web structure in upland Panamanian streams.  Limnology & Oceanography 54(1): 331–343.

Kilham, S. S., M. Hunte-Brown, P. Verburg, C. M. Pringle, M. R. Whiles, K. R. Lips and E. Zandona. 2009.  Challenges for interpreting stable isotope fractionation of carbon and nitrogen in tropical aquatic ecosystems. Verh. Internat. Verein. Limnol. 30(5): 749753.

Lips, K. R., J. Diffendorfer, J. Mendelson, and M. Sears.  2008.  Riding the wave:  Climate change, emerging infectious disease and amphibian declines. Public Library of Science Biology 6(3): e72.  DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060072.
Sears, M., J. Diffendorfer, K. Lips, and J. Mendelson. 2008. Amphibian declines and issues of inference: response to Parmesan and Singer. Public Library of Science Biology 14 Apr 2008.
Brem, F. and K. R. Lips.  2008.  Patterns of infection by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis among species, habitats and elevations during epidemic and endemic stages.  Diseases of Aquatic Organisms (In press).

Whitfield, S. M., K. R. Lips, and M. A. Donnelly.  (In press). Amphibian conservation and amphibian decline in Central America.  In: Status of Conservation and Decline of Amphibians: Western Hemisphere H. Heatwole, C. Barrios-Amorós and J. Wilkinson (editors).  Volume 8B in: Amphibian Biology, H. Heatwole (ed.), Surrey Beatty and Sons, Pty. Ltd., Sydney. Australia.

Ryan, M. J., K. R. Lips, M. W. Eichholz.  2008. Decline and extirpation of an endangered Panamanian stream frog population (Craugastor punctariolus) due to an outbreak of chytridiomycosis.  Biological Conservation 141: 1636–1647.
Connelly, S., R. J. Bixby. C.M Pringle, R. Brenes, M. R. Whiles, K. R. Lips, S. Kilham, and A. D. Huryn.  2008.  Changes in stream primary producer communities resulting from loss of tadpoles: can small-scale experiments predict effects of large-scale catastrophic amphibian declines?  Ecosystems (In press). DOI: 10.1007/s10021-008-9191-7

Regester, K.J., M. R. Whiles, and K. R. Lips.  2008.  Variation in the trophic basis of production and energy flow associated with emergence of larval salamander assemblages (Ambystomatidae) from forest ponds.  Freshwater Biology 53:1754–67.

Colon-Gaud, C., S. Peterson, M. R. Whiles, S. S. Kilham, K. R. Lips, and C. M. Pringle.  2008.  Allochthonous litter inputs, organic matter standing stocks, and organic seston dynamics in upland Panamanian streams: potential effects of larval amphibians on organic matter dynamics.  Hydrobiologia 603:301–312.

Robertson, J. M., K. R. Lips, and E. Heist.  2008. Fine scale gene flow and individual movements among subpopulations of Centrolene prosoblepon (Anura: Centrolenidae).  Revista de Biología Tropical 56(1): 13–26.

Verburg, P., S. S. Kilham, C. M. Pringle, K. R. Lips, and D. L. Drake.  2007.  A pre-extirpation stable isotope study of an amphibian-dominated neotropical stream food web.  Journal of Tropical Ecology 23(6): 643–651. 

Ringia, A. and K. R. Lips.  2007.  Field and lab studies of reproduction, growth and development in Eurycea lucifuga.  Herpetologica  63(3):258–268.

Mendelson, J. R.  III, K. R. Lips, J. E. Diffendorfer, R. W. Gagliardo, G. B. Rabb, J. P. Collins, P. Daszak, R. Ibáñez, K. C. Zippel, S. N. Stuart, C. Gascon, H. R. DaSilva, P. Burrrowes, R. C. Lacy, F. Bolaños, L. A. Coloma, K. M. Wright, D. B. Wake.  2006.  Responding to Amphibian Loss: Response.  Science  314: 1541–42.

Mendelson, J. R. III, K. R. Lips, R. W. Gagliardo, G. B. Rabb, J. P. Collins, J. E. Diffendorfer, P. Daszak, R. Ibáñez D., K C. Zippel, D. P. Lawson, K. M. Wright, S. N. Stuart, C. Gascon, H. R. da Silva, P. A. Burrowes, R. L. Joglar, E. La Marca, S. Lötters, L. H. du Preez, C. Weldon, Alex Hyatt, J. V. Rodriguez-Mahecha, S. Hunt, H. Robertson, B. Lock, C. J. Raxworthy, D. R. Frost, R. C. Lacy, R. A. Alford, J. A. Campbell, G. Parra-Olea, F. Bolaños, J. J. Calvo Domingo, T. Halliday, J. B. Murphy, M. H. Wake, Luis A. Coloma, S. L. Kuzmin, M. S. Price, K. M. Howell, M. Lau, R. Pethiyagoda, M. Boone, M. J. Lannoo, A. R. Blaustein, A. Dobson, R. A. Griffiths, M. L. Crump, D. B. Wake, E. D. Brodie Jr.  2006.  Confronting amphibian declines and extinctions. Science 313: 48.

Lips, K. R., F. Brem, R. Brenes, J. D. Reeve, R. A. Alford, J. Voyles, C. Carey, A. Pessier, L. Livo, J. P. Collins. 2006. Infectious disease and global biodiversity loss: pathogens and enigmatic amphibian extinctions.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 103(9): 3165–3170.

Whiles, M. R., K. R. Lips, C. Pringle, S.S. Kilham, R. Brenes, S. Connelly, J. C. Colon Guad, M. Hunte-Brown, A. D. Huryn, C. Montgomery, and S. Peterson.  2006.  The consequences of amphibian population declines to the structure and function of neotropical stream ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4: 27–34.

Woodhams, D., J. Voyles, K. Lips, C. Carey, L. Rollins-Smith.  2006.  Predicted disease susceptibility in a Panamanian amphibian assemblage based on skin peptide defenses. Journal of Wildlife Disease. 42(2): 207–218.

Regester, K. J., K. R. Lips, and M. R. Whiles. 2006. Larval production, emergence production, and oviposition by salamanders (Ambystomatidae) contribute to energy flow between habitats in a forest ecosystem of southern Illinois.  Oecologia 147: 303–314.


2012              Sabin Award for Amphibian Conservation
2005              Aldo Leopold Leadership Program Fellow
2000              CSIRO Australia Medal for Research Achievement: Investigating Amphibian Mortality,
1999–2001    Biodiversity Leadership Award: Bay & Paul Foundation
1998              President’s Award: Chicago Zoological Society


1995    Ph. D., Biology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
1989    Tropical Biology: an Ecological Approach 89-3.  Organization for Tropical Studies
1988    B. S., Zoology, University of South Florida.  Tampa, Florida