Button to scroll to the top of the page.

David Cannatella

Department Chair, Integrative Biology, Professor
College of Natural Sciences, Department of Integrative Biology

Systematics, phylogenomics, evolution of amphibians and reptiles


Phone: 512-453-1620

Office Location
PAT 121A

Postal Address
AUSTIN, TX 78712

I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette. My Master's and PhD degrees are from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas and I was advised by and Linda Trueb. Following graduate school I was a postdoctoral fellow in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, under the mentorship of David Wake and Marvalee Wake. My first faculty position was at Louisana State University in the Museum of Natural Sciences, where I was also the Curator of Amphibians. Following this I moved to the University of Texas in 1991, first as a research Curator and then later as tenured faculty.

During my 33 years at the University of Texas, I have advised 23 PhD students, and served as President of two professional societies and Editor-in-Chief of Systematic Biology. I am an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and served two years as a Program Officer in Systematics and Biodiversity Science for the National Science Foundation.

My research focuses on broad-scale patterns in the origin, evolution, and survival of amphibians. Much of this is led by my grad students, who design their own research, integrating across several levels of function and structure, from cellular to macroevolutionary levels. Poison frogs are the focal group for most of my students. Many species are brightly colored and have skin toxins that protect them from predators. There is an underlying mystery: Why don't poison frogs poison themselves with their own chemical defenses? Answering this question integrates studies of cell physiology, molecular evolution, whole-organism physiology, predator-prey interactions, acoustic communication, and chemical ecology. These approaches are framed by deep-time evolutionary relationships revealed by genomic data.

This work is relevant to human health because the molecular mechanisms by which many environmental and natural toxins affect us are similar to those of the frogs. Overall, our work embodies a holistic approach to biodiversity. How did the uncountable array of life-forms, species, communities, and ecosystems evolve, how are they maintained, and how will they survive?