To expose the complexity of species responses to environmental change to better understand and manage evolution and extinction in a changing world.
Species reponses to climate change
Everyone has heard about global warming and climate change. And we have all heard the argument that temperatures have been changing throughout Earth’s history, so why worry? Two things make this period of global warming different. First, the warming is almost entirely caused by human actions. Second, the warming is happening at unprecedented rates.
The consequences of global warming for biodiversity are dire. And because no serious attempts have been made to slow or reverse the actions that cause global warming, we are committed to a future of increasing temperatures, whose effects on all living things will magnify each decade.
Can we predict the fate of species under global warming? The answer at the moment is no. Predicting how species respond to climate change requires understanding about physiology, genetics, ecology and evolution. It is really complex. But the unprecedented nature of climate change demands our attention.
Our research embraces this complexity. By focusing on the interplay between organisms, their genes and their environment, we aim to better understand the factors that facilitate or constrain species responses to climate change. Our work stresses the importance of both genetic adaptation and phenotypic plasticity in underpinning responses to global change.
We address this complexity by focussing on three core questions:
- How does the environment influence the expression of the phenotypic and genetic variation that underpins adaptation?
- What role does nutrition play in mediating evolutionary responses to climate change?
- How important is sex-specific adaptation to evolutionary responses to climate change?
We uses a combination of experimental approaches, including comparisons of populations collected from along environmental gradients, experimental evolution, quantitative genetics and genomics to understand the factors that constrain or facilitate responses to rapid environmental change.
Why we work on (mostly) Drosophila
While they are not cute and cuddly, insects are highly diverse and comprise more than 60% of all animal species. They have critical roles across all levels of ecological organisation. Several hundred Drosophila species in Australia occupy a diversity of climatic conditions. Many species are restricted to the tropics, a few are temperature specialists and some have broad distributions across climatic regions. This makes Drosophila an ideal study system for understanding how organisms adapt to changing environmental conditions.
We also work on springtails collected from the Antarctic to the Wet Tropics of far North Queensland, and marine tubeworms. The organism doesn’t really matter, provided we can address the questions we are interested in answering.
Rapid global change represents the greatest threat to biodiversity this century. Huge amounts of time and money are being spent on efforts to save species from extinction, with limited success. Can we do conservation differently, to better achieve the aim of saving species from extinction? We think the answer to that question is yes.
We believe long-term conservation outcomes can be improved through better integration of evolutionary theory into management practices. We are exploring ways to develop management guidelines to facilitate changes to conservation practice that incorporate evolutionary theory. We are also trying to understand the barriers and opportunities for supporting conservation managers to improve their management outcomes by incorporating evolutionary principles into conservation practise.