Understanding the fundamental determinants of the dynamics of populations, communities, and ecosystems is a long-standing question in ecology that has new urgency, as multiple rapid global environmental changes become the norm. Ecologists must strive to quickly understand the potential influence of climate change, land-use change, and management practices on every level of biological organization, from genes to the biosphere. Animals strongly and rapidly respond to these changes and play under-appreciated roles in ecosystem processes. Moreover, animal ecological responses to global change are often mediated by physiological responses, which drive changes in behavior, species interactions, food webs, and ecosystems. Variation in key physiological drivers associated with global change may also influence spatiotemporal patterns across landscapes. From these basic ideas, my lab’s research has developed along several diverse pathways, highlighted in more detail below.
1. Ecological Implications of Animal Water Balance (Water Webs)
We are studying the direct effects of animal water balance (sources and losses) on trophic interactions and food webs (which we have named “water webs”). For instance, previous work has shown that spiders and crickets will “drink” their food under dry conditions, consuming large amounts in order to meet water requirements rather than energy or nutrients.
2. Water Quantity and Quality Effects on Aquatic-Terrestrial Linkages
We study how changes in water quantity and quality influences the reciprocal feedbacks between adjacent aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. For instance, we have shown strong effects of river drying on streamside animals. We are also investigating the influence of variation in macronutrients, like phosphate, or trace chemicals, like caffeine, on rates of emergence of aquatic insects and how changes to fluxes influence streamside spiders and birds.
3. Urbanization and Climate Change
People are increasingly moving to cities and altering those environments. Cities in mesic regions become warmer and drier in ways that can mimic the projected effects of climate change. On the other hand, parts of cities in xeric regions become wetter and sometimes cooler. We are studying how alteration of environmental factors in cities influences animal ecology in ways that may indicate potential effects of climate change. Moreover, our research aims to inform management decisions in cities that could maximize ecosystem services and minimize disservices in the places where most people now live.
4. Understanding Ecological Fluctuations at Multiple Scales
What controls fluctuations in ecological systems across spatial scales? This is a fundamental question in ecology with important consequences for species conservation, pest management, and the delivery of ecosystem services. We are investigating the network of mechanisms controlling ecological fluctuations across spatial scales, study systems, and levels of organization.