About our research
Thank you for your interest in learning more about our research group in these pages. Our TrEnCh (Translating Environmental Change) Project is a branch of the group focused on building computational and visualization tools to understand how organisms experience climate change. We practice open science, so you can track our progress in our research group and TrEnCh Project GitHub organizations. You can find lab policies and resources here.
How does biology (morphology, physiology, and life history) determine an organism’s ecological and evolutionary response to environmental change?
Our research group combines modelling, field and lab collection of ecological and physiological data, and ecoinformatics to examine how biology (morphology, physiology, and life history) determines an organism’s ecological and evolutionary responses to environmental change. We integrate approaches from physiological ecology and evolution, population and community ecology, and biogeography. Our research currently focuses on montane butterflies and grasshoppers as they offer excellent historical records.
- Ecological and evolutionary forecasting and hindcasting: We are using historic data on species’ traits from museum specimens and performance from lab and field studies to assess phenotypic shifts and their influence on species’ responses to recent climate change.
- Mechanistic models of species’ ranges in changing environments: Connecting phenotypes to the ecological and evolutionary consequences of climate change requires integrated models at physiological, performance and fitness levels. First, climate conditions, microclimatic structure and phenotypic traits determine patterns of body temperature and organismal energy and water balances. Second, these patterns can be integrated with thermal performance curves to predict rates of survival, development and reproduction. Third, these different fitness components can be combined to predict population demography and fitness. These mechanistic niche models can forecast climate change impacts from first principles of heat and energy balances. We aim to apply the models to consider the range implications of geographic trait variation, evolution, and biotic constraints. Field and lab work to document ecology and physiology are employed to parameterize and test the models. We tend to focus on morphological and physiological phenotypes as they relate to thermal sensitivity because the functional basis is well established. We characterize phenotypes in the field as well as in controlled conditions (laboratory growth chambers). Field and lab experiments are used to document the functional implications of phenotypes. We’re increasingly addressing the genetic basis of adaptation.
- Physiological, energetic, and ecological constraints on abundance, distribution, and diversity: Ecoinformatics enables us to ask how the evolution of physiological traits constrains broad-scale patterns of abundance, distribution, and diversity.
- Outreach and Education: We develop computational tools to translate physical climate changes into impacts on organisms. The tools enable assessing the ecological consequences of a given warming. We also teach courses on physiological and global change ecology and evolution and participate in outreach activities aimed at disseminating information about the ecological impacts of climate change.
Questions we’ve worked on recently include
- How does local adaptation across a species’ range influence responses to climate change?
- How does thermoregulatory behavior alter the evolution of thermal tolerances and climate change impacts over the short and long term?
- How does thermal exposure and sensitivity vary across the life cycle and what are the implications for demography and distributions?
- What are the implications of developmental plasticity for phenology and demography in changing environments?
- What are the relative impacts of acute (extremes) and chronic (means) climate conditions on demography and distributions?
- How does climate variability influence plastic and evolutionary responses to climate change?
Department of Biology, University of Washington, Box 351800, Seattle, WA 98195-1800
Lab: Life Sciences Building Floor 4E
Affiliations: UW Center for Quantitative Science, eScience Institute