Michael J. Childress

Associate Professor

Contact Information

Phone: 864-656-6198
FAX: 864-656-0435
Email: mchildr@clemson.edu


  • Ph.D. Biology, Florida State University, 1995
  • M.S. Zoology, University of California, 1990
  • B.S. Marine Science/Biology, University of Tampa, 1987

Research Interests

Understanding how animals cope with rapidly changing environmental conditions is essential for their conservation. As an evolutionary behavioral ecologist, my goal is to understand the relationship between the ecology and the behavior of the individual. My research seeks to understand the importance of behavioral variability in the success of commercially important crustaceans such as blue crabs, lobsters and crayfish. These remarkable species differ dramatically in their behaviors, social interactions, and life history strategies, but all are experiencing a rapid decline in the quality of their natural habitats.

My students and I use a combination of laboratory studies, field surveys and computer modeling to evaluate the impact of changing environmental conditions on future populations. In my behavioral ecology course, I teach students models of optimal behavioral strategies and the evolutionary tradeoffs between morphology, life history, ecology and behavior. In my field ecology course, I teach students how to design, collect and analyze field observations to address specific ecological hypotheses.

I also work closely with academic and government biologists to create individual-based population models of commercial species to be used for scenario planning and population forecasting. My hope is that the behavioral plasticity of animals will help them to persist in our rapidly changing environment until we can find sustainable solutions to the loss of critical habitats.

Selected Publications

  • Parmenter, K.J., P.A. Vigueira, C.K. Morlok, J.A. Micklewright, K.M. Smith, K.S. Paul and M.J. Childress. 2013. Seasonal prevalence of Hematodinium sp. infections of blue crabs in three South Carolina (USA) rivers. Estuaries and Coasts 36:174–191.
  • Childress, M.J. and K.J. Parmenter. 2012. Dying of thirst: Impact of reduced freshwater inflow in South Carolina blue crabs.  Proceedings of the 2012 South Carolina Water Resources Conference, Columbia, SC.
  • Seda, J.B., M.J. Childress and M.B. Ptacek. 2012. Individual variation in male size and behavioral repertoire in the sailfin molly, Poecilia latipinna.  Ethology  118:411–421.
  • Ptacek, M.B., M.J. Childress, J.A. Petersen and A.O. Tomasso. 2011. Phylogenetic evidence for the gain and loss of a sexually selected trait in sailfin mollies. ISRN Zoology doi:10.5402/2011/251925
  • Childress, M.J. 2010. Modeling the impact of drought on South Carolina blue crabs using a spatially-explicit individual-based population model. Proceedings of the 2010 South Carolina Water Resources Conference, Columbia, SC.
  • Zito-Livingston, A.N. and M.J. Childress. 2009. Does conspecific density influence the settlement of Caribbean spiny lobster postlarvae? New Zealand Journal of Freshwater and Marine Research 43:313-325.
  • Silbiger, N.J. and M.J. Childress. 2008. Interspecific variation in anemone shrimp distribution and host selection in the Florida Keys (USA): implications for marine conservation. Bulletin of Marine Science 83:329-345.
  • Childress, M.J. 2007. Comparative sociobiology of spiny lobsters. Pages 271-293 in E. Duffy and M. Thiel, eds. Evolutionary Ecology of Social and Sexual Systems: Crustaceans as Model Organisms. Oxford University Press.
  • Lung, M.A. and M.J. Childress. 2007. The influence of conspecifics and predation risk on the vigilance of elk (Cervus elephus) in Yellowstone National Park. Behavioral Ecology 18(1):12-20.
  • Childress, M.J. and S.H. Jury. 2006. Behaviour. Pages 78-112 in B.F. Phillips, ed. Lobsters: Biology, Management, Aquaculture and Fisheries. Blackwell Publishing. Oxford, UK.
  • Hankison, S.J., M.J. Childress, J.J. Schmitter-Soto and M.B. Ptacek. 2006. Morphological divergence in the Mexican sailfin mollies, Poecilia velifera and Poecilia petenensis. Journal of Fish Biology 68:1610-1630.
  • Ptacek, M.B., M.J. Childress and M.M. Kittell. 2005. Characterizing the mating behaviors of the Tamesi molly: a sailfin with shortfin morphology. Animal Behaviour. 70: 1339-1348.
  • Childress, M.J. and M.A. Lung. 2003. Predation risk, gender and the group size effect: Does elk vigilance depend upon the behavior of conspecifics?. Animal Behaviour 66:389-398.
  • Childress, M.J. and W.F. Herrnkind. 2001. The guide effect influence on the gregariousness in juvenile Caribbean spiny lobsters. Animal Behaviour 62:465-472.
  • Childress, M.J. and W.F. Herrnkind. 2001. The influence of conspecifics on the ontogenetic habitat shift of juvenile Caribbean spiny lobsters. Marine and Freshwater Research. 52:1077-1084.

Current Courses Taught

  • BIOSC 394 & 494 – Conservation of Marine Resources (Creative Inquiry)
  • BIOSC 470 & H470 – Behavioral Ecology
  • BIOSC 471 – Behavioral Ecology Lab
  • BIOSC 810 – Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology
  • BIOSC 840 – Understanding Biological Inquiry 

Previous Courses Taught

  • BIOSC 302 & H302 – Invertebrate Biology
  • BIOSC 306 – Invertebrate Biology  Lab
  • BIOSC 490 – Rocky Mountain Field Ecology (Maymester)
  • BIOSC 871 – Behavioral Ecology Modelling
  • BIOSC 871 – Design & Analysis of Field Experiments  

Graduate Students

  • Katherine Heldt, MS. Role of aggression and gregarious behaviors on spiny lobster den sharing and dispersal.
  • Kylie Smith, MS. Impact of parrotfish grazing on coral reef heath.

Professional Affiliations

  • CU Disc Golf Association (Faculty Advisor)
  • Clemson University Biological Sciences Club (Faculty Advisor)
  • CU Disc Golf Association (Faculty Advisor)
  • Animal Behavior Society
  • Ecological Society of America
  • International Society for Behavioral Ecology