Cynthia Downs

Cynthia Downs
Cynthia Downs

Assistant Professor of Biology

on leave 2019-20
Taylor Science Center 2031

Cynthia Downs is an ecological physiologist who investigates how the diverse physiological traits expressed by animals alter an animal’s interaction with its environment and mediates the animal’s ecology and evolutionary trajectories. Her research focuses on the organismal level, but she integrates across levels of biological organization to ask questions about how animals work.

Downs' research program seeks to understand several things: mechanisms that mediate physiological traits and trade-offs, how physiological traits determine life histories, and how environmental conditions affect physiological phenotypes. She received a doctorate from the University of Nevada Reno, and completed postdoctoral appointments at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the University of Nevada Reno.

Recent Courses Taught

Evolutionary Medicine
Ecological Physiology
Vertebrate Physiology

Research Interests

I investigate how the diverse physiological traits expressed by animals alter an animal’s interaction with its environment and mediate the animal’s ecology, population dynamics and evolutionary trajectories. My research is largely focused at the organismal level, but I integrate studies across biological levels because organismal-level phenotypes are not independent of each other, of the mechanisms that mediate expression of phenotypes or of ecological and evolutionary history. Specifically, my program seeks to understand the following: mechanisms that mediate physiological traits and trade-offs; how physiological traits determine life histories and population dynamics, and how environmental conditions affect physiological phenotypes. Ultimately, I seek to understand the interplay among levels of biological organization that leads to expression of a physiological phenotype and the consequences of individual variation in determining physiological phenotypes. To investigate these topics, I use diverse techniques from multiple disciplines (including experimental evolution, immunology, population ecology and comparative physiology) to collect data at different levels of organization.

Select Publications

  • CJ Downs, LA Schoenle, BA Han, JF Harrison, LB Martin. 2019. "Scaling of host competence." Trends in Parasitologydoi.org/10.1016/j.pt.2018.12.002.
  • Francis CD, J Donald, MJ Fuxjager, LZ Garamszegi, W Goymann, M Hau, JF Husak, MA Johnson, B Kircher, R Knapp, LB Martin, EI Miller, LA Schoenle, MN Vitousek, TD Williams, CJ Downs. 2018. "Metabolic scaling of stress hormones in vertebrate animals." Integrative and Comparative Biology icy063: 1-10. doi.org/10.1093/icb/icy063
  • Johnson MA, CD Francis, EI Miller, CJ Downs, MN Vitouseki. 2018. "Detecting bias in a large-scale comparative analysis: methods for expanding the scope of hypothesis-testing with HormoneBase." Integrative and Comparative Biology icy045: 1-9. doi.org/10.1093/icb/icy045
  • Downs, CJ, BV Boan, TD Lohuis, KS, Stewart. 2018. "Investigating relationships between reproduction, immune defenses, and cortisol in Dall sheep." Frontiers in Immunology 9:105. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.00105
  • MacColl, E, K Vanesky, JA Buck, BM Dudek, CA Eagles-Smith, JA Heath, G Herring, C Vennum**, CJ Downs. 2017. "Correlates of immune defenses in golden eagles." Journal of Experimental Zoology, Part A 327: 243-253.
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  • Ben-Hamo, M, CJ Downs, DJ Burns, B Pinshow. 2017. House sparrows offset the physiological trade-off between immune response and feather growth by adjusting foraging behavior. Journal of Avian Biology 48: 837-845. doi: 10.1111/jav.01252
  • LaDage, L, TC Roth II, CJ Downs, B Sinervo, VV Pravosudov. 2017. Increased testosterone decreases medial cortical volume and neurogenesis in territorial side-blotched lizards (Uta stansburiana). Frontiers in Neuroscience 11: 97. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2017.00097
  • Downs, CJ, JL Brown, B Wone, ER Donovan, JP Hayes. 2016. Speeding up growth: selection for mass-independent maximal metabolic rate alters growth rates. American Naturalist 187: 295-307. DOI: 10.1086/684837
  • Downs, C.J., K.M. Stewart, B.L. Dick. 2015. "Investment in constitutive immune function by North American elk experimentally maintained at two different population densities." PLoS One 10:e0125586.
  • Wone, B.W.M., P. Madsen, E.R. Donovan, M.K. Lobocha, M.W. Sears, C.J. Downs, D.A. Sorensen, J.P. Hayes. 2015. "A strong response to selection on mass-independent maximal metabolic rate without a correlated response in basal metabolic rate." Heredity 114: 419-427.
  • Downs, C.J., K.M. Stewart. 2014. "A primer in ecoimmunology and immunology for wildlife research and management." California Fish and Game 100: 369-393. *Invited paper for 100th anniversary issue.
  • Downs, C.J., J.S. Adelman, G.E. Demas. 2014. "Mechanisms and methods in ecoimmunology: integrating within-organism and between-organism processes." Integrative and Comparative Biology 54: 340-352. doi: 10.1093/icb/icu082.
  • Downs, C.J.*, N.A. Dochtermann*. 2014. "Testing hypotheses in ecoimmunology using mixed models: disentangling hierarchical correlations." Integrative and Comparative Biology 54: 407-418. doi: 10.1093/icb.icu035. *Equally contributing authors.
  • Dlugosz, E.M., C.J. Downs, I.S. Khokhlova, A.A. Degen, B.R. Krasnov. 2014. "Host reproductive status and reproductive performance of a parasite: offspring quality and trade-offs in a flea parasitic on a rodent." Parasitology 141: 914-924.
  • Dlugosz, E.M., C.J. Downs, I.S. Khokhlova, A.A. Degen, B.R. Krasnov. 2014. "Ectoparasite performance on reproducing mammalian females: an unexpected decrease on pregnant hosts." Journal of Experimental Biology 217:1058-1064.
  • Downs, C.J., J.L. Brown, B. Wone, E.R. Donovan, K. Hunter, J.P. Hayes. 2013. "Selection for increased mass-independent maximal metabolic rate suppresses innate but not adaptive immune function." Proceedings of the Royal Society: B 280: 20122636.
  • Dlugosz, E.M., H. Schutz, T.H. Meek, W. Acosta, C.J. Downs, E.G. Platzer, M.A. Chappell, T. Garland. 2013. "Immune response to a Trichinella spiralis infection in house mice from lines selectively bred for high voluntary wheel running." Journal of Experimental Biology 216: 4214-4221.
  • Downs, C.J., H. Schutz, T.H. Meek, E.M. Dlugosz, W. Acosta, T. Garland. 2012. "Within life-time trade-offs but evolutionary freedom for hormonal and immunological traits: evidence from mice bred for high voluntary exercise." Journal of Experimental Biology 215: 1651-1661.
  • Downs, C.J., S.B. Vander Wall. 2009. "High relative humidity increases pilfering success of yellow pine chipmunks." Journal of Mammalogy 90: 796-802.
  • Vander Wall, S.B., C.J. Downs, M. Enders, B.A. Waitman. 2008. "Do yellow-pine chipmunks recover their own caches?" Western North American Naturalist 68: 319-325.
  • Downs, C.J., J.P. Hayes, C.R. Tracy. 2008. "Scaling metabolic rate with body mass and inverse body temperature: A test of the Arrhenius fractal supply model." Functional Ecology 22: 239-244.

Professional Affiliations

American Association for the Advancement of Sciences
American Society of Mammalogists
American Physiological Society
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology

Appointed to the Faculty: 2015

Educational Background

Ph. D., University of Nevada
B.S., State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

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