Meeting Abstract

BART-1  Thursday, Jan. 5 19:00 - 20:00  Integrating physiology, behavior, and ecology to understand the mechanisms that regulate and limit animal populations SHERIFF, Michael; Penn State Univ.

George A. Bartholomew championed the idea of a unified biology and a hierarchy of biological explanations. In 1964, he stated that ‘...each level [of biology] finds its explanation of mechanism at levels below, and its significance at levels above.’ He operated at the intersection of physiology, behavior, and ecology, appreciating that an organism is inseparable from its environment. Thus an animal cannot be understood without a deep knowledge of the world it lives in and has evolved from. My research implicitly stands on this foundation, addressing one of the fundamental questions in population ecology: what limits and regulates animal populations? In the past, population studies often treated animals as black boxes. However, their physiology is key to understanding how they integrate, respond to, and are changed by their biotic and abiotic environment. My approach is to bridge physiology, behavior, and ecology to understand the forces that shape individuals and, thus, impact their populations and communities. In this lecture, I will examine three species and their solutions to three ecological problems. First, arctic ground squirrels hibernate in one of most challenging environments and I will examine how climate-induced changes in snow cover may have population level consequences; second, snowshoe hare populations in the boreal forest go through predator-driven 10-year cycles and I will examine how the risk of predation influences maternal stress and may impact population demography and community processes; third, fence lizards in Alabama are contending with life-threatening invasive fire ants and I will examine how they are coping with and responding to this novel stressor. My research will stress the critical need to take laboratory-based physiology into the real world and thus ground our research within an ecological and evolutionary context.