EEB Special Seminar: Coping with environmental change: integrating behavior and mechanism

Dustin Rubenstein, Associate Professor, Columbia University

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If organisms are to persist in the face of climate change, they must be able to deal not only with increasing temperatures, but also with greater climatic variation. I will discuss how living in social groups allows animals to cope with environmental uncertainty. Using comparative data across all birds, as well as empirical data from one species of cooperative breeder, I will demonstrate the many ways that environmental variation influences social living as well as the fitness benefits of being social. I will then highlight the physiological, epigenetic, and genetic responses that animals use to cope with naturally variable environments. Specifically, I will show how different components of the vertebrate stress response are shaped by different timescales of environmental variation, how environmental conditions during development influence DNA methylation of the stress hormone receptor, and how environmental change more broadly influences the evolution of that receptor. Together, these studies will illustrate the many ways that animals respond to and cope with environmental change.
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