Temperature adaptation in a changing environment...

Many organisms face extinction and/or range shifts to future climate change unless they are able to stay in place by acclimating or adapting. Ants are a great taxonomic group to study how species will respond to climate change because they are common and play critical roles in the ecosystem. So if they become less common as a consequence of climate warming, then this would potentially lead to a negative cascading effect in the ecosystems they occupy! And ants occupy very diverse environments, which also means they harbor an array of strategies that allow them to cope with stressful environments. What mechanisms, characteristics, and abilities allow some species to persist better than others?

Study system: Common forest ants (genus Aphaenogaster) Photo by Alex Wild. The queen is front and center! She lays the majority of eggs within the colony, while other small ants in the frame, known as workers, perform all the grunt work from taking care of babies to finding food.

Research Objective

One way to understand whether species are vulnerable or resilient to pending temperature shifts is to investigate how different species have historically adapted to changing climates, which is one of the main goal of my dissertation. For this work, I combine field work, lab studies, and computational approaches (statistics, bioinformatics, phylogenetics) to determine the extent to which species' physiologies match their respective thermal environment.

Research projects

  • What is the evolutionary history of critical stress proteins in ants?
  • To what extent are common woodland ants locally adapted to their environment?
  • And how does the stress response follow these patterns of adaptive variation?
  • How do other stressors that accompany climate change influence the thermal physiology of these ants?
  • What is the functional diversity of the proteome that is important for thermal tolerance?
  • Do common woodland ants at the northern range limits face thermal constraints?
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