How do variable environments drive the evolution of metabolic physiology in ectotherms?
An organism’s central task is to obtain nutrients from the environment, and divide those nutrients among competing demands in the way that best enhances the passing on of its genes. This task is complicated enormously by the fact that environments vary widely in concentrations of nutrients, and in abiotic factors such as temperature and oxygen that profoundly impact the acquisition and processing of those nutrients. Fluctuations in these abiotic factors can push organisms outside tolerance limits, inducing stress responses that in turn alter resource allocation strategies. My research aims to uncover drivers, mechanisms and consequences of adaptive evolutionary change in pathways of energy metabolism, in response to environmental variability. My current research focuses on four inter-related themes: 1) Evolutionary impacts of seasonality; 2) Mechanisms and consequences of stress responses; and 3) Mechanisms of life history evolution; and 4) Methods development in metabolic physiology and biochemistry. I use a diverse array of small ectotherms in my research, mostly insects (although now I have students working on tardigrades and aquatic snails!). Small ectotherms frequently have body temperatures close to environmental temperatures, comprise many important herbivores that are an integral link in terrestrial food webs, and are extremely sensitive to changes in the environment.