Practicing both basic and applied science, Dr. Hopkins studies the development and early growth of a variety of species, including birds, turtles, snakes, and amphibians. He is most interested in how water pollution and maternal behaviors affect offspring health.
With field sites in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and various regions of Virginia, the Hopkins lab is engaged in two major lines of research in order to understand how the health and behavior of reproductive birds, reptiles, and amphibians influences the health of the offspring. Across the board, Hopkins’ research reveals that a mother’s role should not be taken lightly.
In a series of projects, Hopkins is investigating how water pollutants such as fly ash and mercury affect the ecology and evolution of species living in those conditions. Using advanced analytical techniques, Hopkins and collaborators are able to pinpoint the process by which the contaminants enter and accumulate in bodily tissue and are passed from mothers to their babies—a complicated process in which contaminants bond with proteins and lipids in the tissue and are transported into the egg. He has traced levels of mercury, a highly potent neurotoxin, through the reproductive cycles of turtles and frogs, and found it to be especially damaging to developing embryos. These sorts of findings have been used by stakeholders to develop and preserve clean living conditions.
In another project, funded by the National Science Foundation, Hopkins is investigating how the behaviors and habits of reproductive female birds can affect the development and early growth of offspring, using wood ducks as a model system. Hopkins and his lab have linked the amount of time that a female spends sitting on her eggs with the health of the offspring’s immune system and development of other important characteristics like thermoregulation. In the laboratory, Hopkins controls the temperature of eggs to mimic natural cycles of egg-sitting in order to learn more about how these behaviors impact early embryonic development.