Biodiversity Institute Fellows Profiles

Luke Welton

Master of Arts, ecology and evolutionary biology, 2012
Advisors: A. Townsend Peterson, Rafe Brown, Robert Moyle
Master's thesis title:  Multilocus phylogeny and Bayesian estimates of species boundaries reveal hidden evolutionary relationships and cryptic diversity in Southeast Asian water monitors (genus Varanus)
Home Country: United States (Lawrence, Kansas)
Current position: Doctoral candidate and a HIDRA Fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Jack Sites at Brigham Young University 


Why did you choose to study herpetology at KU?
I was fortunate that KU, with one of the top programs available, was in my backyard. My family has lived in Lawrence since 1990, so I was one of the kids at the Baker wetlands catching salamanders and frogs and turtles. If I hadn’t grown up here, it still would have been at the top of my list. The program in particular has a lot of draw for graduate students interested in the organismal and systematics side of research. Add to that the historical significance of the program, and having Bill Duellman and Linda Trueb an active part of the program -- it was the right place. 

What opportunities did you have for fieldwork as a graduate student?
My master’s project focused on the water monitors of Southeast Asia. There were four expeditions, and each was three to nine weeks long. For most of those experiences, we were hiking in for several hours, and setting up a camp where you could cook meals, prepare specimens for collections and do everything from scratch. At the end of the two-month expedition, we had the chance to collect a fruit-eating monitor lizard that was known to the local population. It turned out to be morphologically and phylogenetically distinct. I couldn’t be any more grateful for the opportunity and to fall into this charismatic group of animals to study there. I want to work on monitor lizards for the rest of my life.

Where are you now, and what is next?
I am finishing my PhD at Brigham Young.  I recently was invited to join a specialist group dedicated to monitor lizards at the IUCN – international union for the conservation of nature.  Next I am returning to KU to work as the collections manager in herpetology.