Sonya Auer

Sonya Auer
At Williams since 2017

Areas of Expertise

I am an integrative biologist with a keen interest in the  ecology and evolution of energetics – that is, understanding how animals acquire and use energy to cope with changes in their environment over ecological and evolutionary time scales. I’ve studied birds and fish all over the world but most recently was working in Scotland where I was studying the energetics of juvenile salmon in small mountain streams. This work was part of a fun collaborative project aimed at understanding whether and how salmon help their offspring by dying on the spawning grounds.


This year, I am teaching two really interesting courses at Williams College – Climate Change Physiology (F) and Intro to Environmental Science (S). I will also be conducting lab research on small fishes to better understand how thermal tolerance differs among life stages and populations. Email me if you’re interested in gaining research experience – from basic fish care to more intricate measurements of fish thermal tolerance.

Scholarship/Creative Work

*indicates student author

42) Auer, SK, J. Solowey, S Rajesh*, and EL Rezende. Energetic mechanisms for coping with changes in resource availability. Biology Letters 16: 20200580.

41) Grinder*, RM, RD Bassar, and SK Auer. 2020. Upper thermal limits are repeatable in Trinidadian guppies. Journal of Thermal Biology (2020): 102597.

40) Auer, SK, RD Bassar, D. Turek, GJ Anderson, S McKelvey, JD Armstrong, KH Nislow, HK Downie, TAJ Morgan, D McLennan, and NB Metcalfe, N. B. 2020. Metabolic rate interacts with resource availability to determine individual variation in microhabitat use in the wild. The American Naturalist.

39) Hanson, N, J Ounsley, T Burton, SK Auer, JH Hunt, B Shaw, J Henderson, and SJ Middlemas. 2019. Hierarchical analysis of wild Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) fecundity in relation to body size and developmental traits. Journal of Fish Biology.

38) McLennan+, D, SK Auer+, GJ Anderson, TC Reid, RD Bassar, DC Stewart, E Cauwelier, J Sampayo, S McKelvey, KH Nislow, JD. Armstrong, and NB Metcalfe. 2019. Simulating nutrient release from parental carcasses increases the growth, biomass and genetic diversity of juvenile Atlantic salmon. Journal of Applied Ecology.

37. Salin, K., E. Villasevil, G. Anderson, S.K. Auer, C. Selman, R. Hartley, B. Mullen, C. Chinopoulos, and N.B. Metcalfe. 2018.  Decreased mitochondrial metabolic requirements in fasting animals carry an oxidative cost. Functional Ecology.

36. Auer, S.K., C.A. Dick, N.B. Metcalfe, and D.N. Reznick. 2018. Metabolic rate evolves rapidly and in parallel with the pace of life history. Nature Communications 9(14) (doi:10.1038/s41467-017-02514z)

35. Jacobs, A., C. Doran, D. S. Murray, J. Duffill Telsnig, K. L. Laskowski, N. A. R. Jones, S.K. Auer, and K. Praebel. 2018. On the challenges and opportunities facing fish biology: a discussion of five key knowledge gaps. Journal of Fish Biology 92: 690-698.

34. Auer, S.K., K. Salin, G.J. Anderson, and N.B. Metcalfe. 2018Individuals exhibit consistent differences in their metabolic rates across changing thermal conditions. Comp. Biochem. Physiol., A: Mol. Integr. Physiol. 271: 1-6

33. Auer, S.K., G.J. Anderson, S. McKelvey, R.D. Bassar, D. McLennan, J.D. Armstrong, K.H. Nislow, H.K. Downie, L. McKelvey, T.A.J. Morgan, K. Salin, D.L. Orrell, A. Gauthey, T.C. Reid, and N.B. Metcalfe. 2018. Nutrients from salmon parents alter selection pressures on their offspring. Ecology Letters doi:10.1111/ele.12894.  Summaries of our work can be found here and here. 

32. Dalton C.M., R.W. El-Sabaawi, D.C. Honeyfield, S.K. Auer, D.N. Reznick, et al. 2017. The influence of dietary and whole-body nutrient content on the excretion of a vertebrate consumer. PLOS ONE 12(11): e0187931.

31. Auer, S.K., and T.E. Martin. 2017. Parental care mitigates carry-over effects of poor early conditions on offspring growth. Behavioral Ecology 28: 1176-1182.

30. Auer, S.K., S.S. Killen, and E.L. Rezende. 2017. Resting versus active: a meta-analysis of the intra- and inter-specific associations between minimum, sustained, and maximum metabolic rates in vertebrates. Functional Ecology 31: 1728-1738.

29. Salin, K., S.K. Auer, E. Villasevil, G. Anderson, A.G. Cairns, W. Mullen, R.C. Hartley, and N.B. Metcalfe. 2017. Using the MitoB method to assess levels of reactive oxygen species in ecological studies of oxidative stress. Nature Scientific Reports 7: 41228.

28. Auer, S.K., K. Salin, A. Rudolf, G. Anderson and N. Metcalfe. 2016. Differential effects of food availability on minimum and maximum rates of metabolism. Biology Letters 12: 20160586.

27. Salin, K., S.K. Auer, A. Rudolf, G. Anderson and N.B. Metcalfe. 2016. Variation in metabolic rate among individuals is linked to mitochondrial properties in separate tissues. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 89: 511-523.

26. Salin, K., E. Villasevil, S.K. Auer, G. Anderson, C. Selman, N.B. Metcalfe and C. Chinopoulos. 2016. Simultaneous measurement of mitochondrial respiration and ATP production in tissue homogenates and calculation of effective P/O ratios. Physiological Reports 4: e13007.

25. Auer, S.K., K. Salin, G. Anderson and N.B. Metcalfe. 2016. Flexibility in metabolic rate and activity level determines individual variation in overwinter performance. Oecologia 182: 703-712.

24. Auer, S.K., R.D. Bassar, K. Salin, and N.B. Metcalfe. 2016. Repeatability of metabolic rate is lower for animals living under field versus laboratory conditions. Journal of Experimental Biology 219: 631-634.

23. Salin, K., S.K. Auer, G. Anderson and N.B. Metcalfe. 2016. Inadequate food intake at high temperatures is related to depressed mitochondrial respiratory capacity. Journal of Experimental Biology 219: 1356-1362.

22. Auer, S.K., K. Salin, G. Anderson and N.B. Metcalfe. 2015. Aerobic scope explains individual variation in feeding capacity. Biology Letters 11: 20150793.

21. Salin, K., S.K. Auer, A.M. Rudolf*, G.J. Anderson, A.G. Cairns, W. Mullen, R.C. Hartley, C. Selman, and N.B. Metcalfe. 2015. Individuals with higher metabolic rates have lower levels of reactive oxygen species hydrogen peroxide in vivo. Biology Letters 11: 20150538.

20. Auer, S.K., K. Salin, A. Rudolf*, G. Anderson and N. Metcalfe. 2015. Flexibility in metabolic rate confers a growth advantage under changing food availability. Journal of Animal Ecology 84: 1405-1411.

19. Salin, K., S.K. Auer, B. Rey, C. Selman and N.B. Metcalfe. 2015. Variation in the link between oxygen consumption and ATP production and its relevance for animal performance. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282: 20151028.

18. Zandonà, E., S.K. Auer, S. Kilham, and D.N. Reznick. 2015. Contrasting population and diet influences on gut length of an omnivorous tropical fish, the Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata). PLOS One 10(9): e0136079.

17. Auer, S.K., K. Salin, A. Rudolf*, G. Anderson and N. Metcalfe. 2015. The optimal combination of standard metabolic rate and aerobic scope for somatic growth depends on food availability. Functional Ecology 29: 479-486.

16. Auer, S.K. and D.I. King. 2014. Ecological and life-history traits explain recent boundary shifts in elevation and latitude among North American songbirds. Global Ecology and Biogeography 23: 867-875.

15. Bassar, R.D., S.K. Auer, and D.N. Reznick. 2014. Why do placentas evolve? A test of the life history facilitation hypothesis in two clades in the genus Poeciliopsis representing two independent origins of placentas. Functional Ecology 28: 999-1010.

14. Auer, S.K. and T.E. Martin. 2013. Climate change has indirect effects on resource use and overlap among coexisting bird species with negative consequences for their reproductive success. Global Change Biology 19: 411-419. Featured with cover photo.

13. Auer, S.K., A. Lopez-Sepulcre, T. Heatherly II, T.J. Kohler, R.D. Bassar, S.A. Thomas, and D.N. Reznick. 2012. Life histories have a history: Effects of past and present conditions on somatic growth in wild Trinidadian guppies. Journal of Animal Ecology 81: 818-826. Winner of British Ecological Society’s 2012 Young Investigator Award.

12. Dowdall, J.T., C.A. Handelsman, S.K. Auer, D.N. Reznick and C.K. Ghalambor. 2012. Fine scale local adaptation in life histories along a continuous environmental gradient in Trinidadian guppies. Functional Ecology 26: 616-627.

11. Zandonà, E., S.K. Auer, S. Kilham, J. Howard, A. López-Sepulcre, M. O’Connor, R.D. Bassar, A. Osorio*, C. Pringle, and D.N. Reznick. 2011. Diet quality and prey selectivity correlate with life histories and predation regime in Trinidadian guppies. Functional Ecology 25: 964-973. Featured with cover photo.

10. Jørgensen, C., S.K. Auer, and D.N. Reznick. 2011. A model for optimal offspring size in fish, including live-bearing and parental effects. American Naturalist 177: E119-E135.

9. Auer, S.K. 2010. Phenotypic plasticity in adult life-history strategies compensates for a poor start in life in Trinidadian guppies. American Naturalist 146: 818-827.

8. Auer, S.K., J.D. Arendt, R. Chandramouli, and D.N. Reznick. 2010. Juvenile compensatory growth has negative consequences for reproduction in Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata). Ecology Letters 13: 998-1007.

7. Bassar, R.D., M.C. Marshall, A. López-Sepulcre, E. Zandonà, S.K. Auer, J. Travis, C.M. Pringle, A.S. Flecker, S.A. Thomas, D.F. Fraser and D.N. Reznick. 2010. Local adaptation in Trinidadian guppies alters ecosystem processes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107: 3616-3621. Winner of Society for the Study of Freshwater Science 2012 Young Investigator Award.

6. Martin, T.E., S.K. Auer, R.D. Bassar, A. Niklison, and P. Lloyd. 2007. Geographic variation in avian incubation periods and parental influences on embryonic temperature. Evolution 61: 2558-2569.

5. Auer, S.K., R.D. Bassar, J.J. Fontaine, and T.E. Martin. 2007. Breeding biology of passerines in a subtropical montane forest in northwestern Argentina. The Condor 109: 321-333.

4. Auer, S.K., R.D. Bassar and T.E. Martin. 2007. Biparental incubation in the Chestnut-vented Titbabbler: mates devote equal time, but males keep eggs warmer. Journal of Avian Biology 38: 278-283.

3. Auer, S.K., D.M. Logue, R.D. Bassar, and D.E. Gammon. 2007. Nesting biology of the Black-bellied Wren (Thryothorus fasciatoventris) in central Panama. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 119: 71-76.

2. Martin, T.E., R.D. Bassar, S.K. Auer, J.J. Fontaine, P. Lloyd, H.A. Mathewson, A.M. Niklison, and A. Chalfoun. 2006. Life-history and ecological correlates of geographic variation in egg and clutch mass among passerine species. Evolution 60: 390-398.

1. Kofoed, E. and S.K. Auer. First description of the nest, eggs, young and breeding behavior of the Great Antpitta. 2004. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 116: 105-108.


Awards, Fellowships & Grants


  • 2019 Society for Experimental Biology President’s Medal
  • Society for Experimental Biology President’s Medal Runner Up 2018
  • 2012 British Ecological Society Young Investigator Award
  • 2011 University of California Outstanding Teaching Award

Fellowships and grants

  • Marine Scotland grant, Is nutrient enrichment a viable strategy for mitigating climate change impacts on Atlantic salmon? (2020) Initial funds US $16,000
  • Lister Bellahouston Traveling Fellowship for international collaboration, “The pace of life in Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata): Do changes in organ mass and energy metabolism facilitate shifts in life history traits?” (2016) UK £1,000.
  • American Physiological Society Travel Award (2016), UK £200.
  • US Northeast Climate Science Center grant, “Modeling effects of climate change on spruce-fir forest ecosystems and associated priority bird populations” (2013) US $148,828.
  • British Ecological Society Parkyn Legacy Travel Award (2013), US $450.
  • American Ornithologist’s Union Postdoctoral Travel Award 2012), US $400.
  • University of California Dissertation Year Fellowship (2010), US $11,800.
  • University of California Chancellor’s Fellowship (2010), US $8,500.
  • University of California Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellowship (2009), US $25,600.
  • US National Science Foundation and Research Council of Norway Nordic Research Opportunity Award, “How are adult life history decisions impacted by early environmental conditions? A state-dependent modeling approach” (2009), US $22,600.
  • University of California Dean’s Dissertation Research Award (2009), US $1,000.
  • University of California-Riverside Newell Award, US $1,000.
  • US National Science Foundation Travel Award (2008), US $1,000.
  • US National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (2006), US $121,500.
  • US Department of Education Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need Fellowship (2005), US $37,890.
  • US National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates, “Effects of nest site selection and parental activity on the nest predation rates of songbirds” (2001) US $4,500.

Professional Affiliations

British Ecological Society

American Society of Naturalists

Society for Experimental Biology

Research Interests

Many organisms live in variable environments where they face temperature extremes, food limitation, predation, and disease. How do animals cope with and adapt to these environmental challenges? This question is of critical importance given current climate change and other human-induced environmental perturbations. As such, it forms the basis for most of my research. To understand the relationship between species and their environment, I take an integrative approach that considers the organism as a whole, investigating how its physiology, behavior, life history traits, ecological interactions, and evolutionary history determine how it responds when the environment changes. I employ question-driven observational, experimental, and comparative studies in the field and laboratory. The broad emphasis of my research – from cellular to macroevolutionary patterns – means that I draw on an array of research tools including energetic, behavioral, geographic, and phylogenetic methods.


Professional Service

Associate Editor, Ecology Letters

Associate Editor, Functional Ecology