Adult animals often produce elaborate behaviors and morphologies in order to coordinate mating and reproduction. The physiological demands of producing such traits can be extreme, however, and must also be balanced against the requirements for survival. An animal’s physiological limits may therefore be crucial to understanding spatial and temporal variation in the evolution of reproductive traits. By studying physiological constraints on animal mating and reproduction, our lab's research aims to 1) illuminate the factors underlying the diversity of animal reproductive strategies; and 2) improve our forecasts of how survival AND reproduction will be affected as animals encounter novel physiological stressors over the coming decades.
Climatic constraints on mating & reproduction
Thermal effects of mate competition and mating traits. Artwork produced by friend of the lab Noah Leith for our 2022 perspective piece in Ecology Letters.
Adapting to the local climate requires that animals optimize both survival and reproduction. However, the abiotic conditions that allow growth and survival may not be the same as those that enable mating and reproduction. For example, courtship displays to attract mates are often performed in sunlit microhabitats that are much warmer and drier than microhabitats used for foraging. Dark ornamental characters that attract mates also have physical properties that absorb solar radiation and increase body temperatures. Gametes and fertilized embryos are frequently more sensitive to the surrounding conditions than are the adults that produced them. Nevertheless, biologists are only just now uncovering how climatic conditions limit the evolution of mating and reproductive traits.
Our work examines how mating and reproductive traits are shaped by physiological responses to the climate. Some questions that we are currently investigating include:
1) How do climatic conditions shape the evolution of mating and mating-related traits?
2) How are species’ distributions affected by the need to successfully coordinate mating?
3) Do morphological and physiological adaptations to the climate play a role in the origins of display traits?
4) To what extent do physiological tolerances evolve to accommodate the conditions encountered during mating?
Mating & reproduction in the Anthropocene
Humans are altering our planet in myriad ways, and many animals will need to find ways to adjust or adapt if they are to persist over the coming decades. Biologists have illuminated many strategies that animals can employ in order to survive in the novel environments created by humans. Far less is known about how animals will successfully coordinate mating and reproduce in the face of novel physiological stressors. As the persistence of populations requires that animals survive and reproduce, we need to build a greater understanding of how our changing planet will disrupt animal mating and whether or not animals can respond.
Our lab examines how mating strategies limit and are limited by responses to global change. Using field, comparative, and citizen science approaches, we are asking:
1) How does climate change alter the balance of natural vs sexual selection?
2) How are mating displays evolving in response to global change?
3) Do display traits increase or decrease the risk of extinction in the Anthropocene?
4) Will the physiological demands of mating limit upslope migration as populations track cooler temperatures?
Example of dragonfly wing ornamentation that is causing males to overheat under warmer climates and appears to be selected against in warmer years.