Adaptation to the Biophysical Environment
In the context of our rapidly changing planet, it has become increasingly important to understand the mechanisms underlying adaptation to the biophysical environment. We integrate field ecology, physiology, genomics and phylogenetic analysis to study macroevolutionary patterns and the process of adaptation. In particular, earth’s climate is becoming hotter and less predictable, and the fitness of organisms is increasingly linked to traits important for performance in a changing climate. Understanding the relative roles of phenotypic plasticity and evolutionary adaptation as responses to climate change is crucial, as phenotypic plasticity is more rapid than evolutionary adaptation, and can either facilitate or constrain evolutionary adaptation. My current research, in collaboration with Michael Logan at the University of Nevada Reno, tests how a tropical forest lizard can respond to climate change by establishing experimental populations on islands in the Panama Canal. These islands are hotter and more variable than the mainland rainforests of the source populations. We are measuring 1) phenotypic and physiological change, 2) selection (viability and fecundity) on thermal physiological traits, 3) the gene expression response under thermal change, and 4) identifying genomic regions that are important for thermal adaptation.We are also using this powerful experimental system to address a variety of other questions in ecology and evolutionary biology.