Richard Zimmer

Understanding how environmental chemical signals and cues mediate various life-history processes can indicate the forces driving the ecology and evolution of natural systems. Yet, these mechanisms remain largely undescribed. To embrace this challenge, my laboratory is developing new instrumentation and analytical techniques for identifying the structures and concentrations of bioactive molecules, while measuring their distributions over the time and space scales relevant to sensory information processing. Through field and laboratory studies, we are devising new theories about chemical communication systems and their roles in mediating physiological mechanisms and ecological consequences at individual, population and community levels. Investigation is driven by a need to understand the sensory basis for behavioral performance. Armed with this knowledge, we seek to determine how, when, and where in nature such behavior makes a difference. To date, we have established fundamental mechanisms controlling (1) sperm-egg interactions, (2) habitat colonization, (3) predation-prey relationships, and (4) microbe-nutrient dynamics. Each of these processes is seminal in regulating the abundances and distributions of microbes, plants, and animals. Our future research will continue to include interdisciplinary investigations on numerous spatial and temporal scales, emphasizing both laboratory and field work. Incorporation of these findings into larger ecological and evolutionary frameworks will promote understanding of natural physicochemical processes that create and maintain biodiversity.

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