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. My integrative research has used 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.Our past research has found that physiological rates are often tightly matched to ecology (Cox and Secor 2007 Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A 148:861-868; 2008 Journal of Experimental Biology 211:1131-1140; 2010 Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 83:618-631; Cox and Cox 2015 Evolution 69:2507-2516) and that behavior can modulate interactions with the biophysical environment (Cox et al. 2018 Journal of Thermal Biology 71:232-236). My current research is in collaboration with Michael Logan at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, where we are testing 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 selection (viability and fecundity) on thermal physiological traits, measuring the gene expression response under thermal stress, and identifying genomic regions that are important for thermal adaptation.