Caro Lab

Tim Caro

Behavioral/evolutionary ecologist and conservation biologist


Coloration, conservation and charismatic species

Research areas

1. Coloration in mammals. My principal research agenda in 2022 is to understand the evolutionary and ecological factors shaping the external appearances of mammals. I use phylogenetic methods to make comparisons across species (carnivores, suids, artiodactyla, rodents, lagomorphs), sophisticated photographic analyses to comprehend how mammals match their background (giant pandas and black-and-white colobus), and simple experiments putting coats on domestic horses to understand why zebras are striped. I work with Martin How, Natasha Howell, Ossi Nokelainen, Ted Stankowich, Catherine Sheard, and Sandra Winters on these projects, and I am half way through writing a book on the evolution of coloration in mammals.

2. Coloration in crabs: Using behavioural experiments and standardized photography of crab coloration, we are trying to understand the adaptive significance of defence strategies and protective coloration in several intertidal crab species. Additionally, I would like to match crab coloration to ecological variables in order to understand the evolutionary drivers of crab colour diversity. I am also concentrating on one species, the world’s largest terrestrial arthropod, the coconut crab, to understand the evolution of its red/blue color polymorphism at my field sites on Pemba, Zanzibar. I work with Manisha Koneru and undergraduates on these issues.

3. Conservation strategies in tropical ecosystems: I am estimating the coconut crab population on Pemba with Rashid Suleiman Rashid and Rahel Sollman; working with Miza Khamis to ascertain coconut crab distribution across the whole of Unguja, Zanzibar; while Monique Borgerhoff Mulder and I are interested in conservation co-production projects more generally.

4. Practical solutions to conservation problems on mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar: I work with LCMO, a Tanzanian NGO that is involved in conservation education and preventing traditional lion killing in western Tanzania; with the Department of Forestry to conserve forests and coconut crabs on Pemba Island, Zanzibar; and with Chumbe Island Coral Park, Zanzibar to protect coconut crabs. I collaborate with Ulli Kloiber, Jonathan Kwiyega and Emmanuel Stephens.

5. Teaching and research: I teach an upper level undergraduate course with Martin How called 'the Biology of Colour' and closely work with a small number of postgraduates in the lab.

Written and edited by Tim Caro