January 30 2019

12:00 Hershey Hall 158

Colin Kremer
W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University

Traits Arent Fixed: The Ecological Consequences of Evolution and Plasticity in a Changing World


Significant advances in ecology emerge from studying how organismal traits affect where species occur, how they function, and how they interact. These advances are often based on the assumption that species or entire communities can be characterized by a set of fixed trait values. However, there is mounting evidence that trait changes, driven by phenotypic plasticity and evolution, affect everything from population dynamics to the maintenance of biodiversity in the face of anthropogenic disturbance. Perhaps nowhere are these effects more evident than among microbes, where ecological and evolutionary processes are intimately entwined. The dual challenges this poses for ecology are: (i) to determine when and where trait dynamics alter fundamental ecological processes, and (ii) to develop and synthesize empirical and theoretical approaches suited to capturing this new level of complexity, where it proves important.

I address these fundamental challenges by studying the ecology of phytoplankton (diverse, globally important photosynthetic microbes). Integrating experimental and theoretical results, I show that: (i) phytoplankton traits are far more dynamic than generally thought, and (ii) these dynamics, driven by plasticity and evolution, are essential to understanding the ecology of phytoplankton, from the behavior of populations in beakers, to the diversity of communities, and the response of global marine ecosystems to climate change. Accounting for trait dynamics in these (and other!) systems is essential to advancing both fundamental and applied ecology.











































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































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