EEB Thursday Seminar: Phenotypic plasticity, gene expression, and the biological response to climate change
Christian Cox, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Georgia Southern University
The climate of the earth is becoming hotter and less predictable, and the fitness of organisms is increasingly linked to traits important for performance in a changing climate. Understanding the relative roles of phenotypic plasticity and evolutionary adaptation as responses to climate change is crucial, as phenotypic plasticity is more rapid than evolutionary adaptation, and can either facilitate or constrain evolutionary adaptation. Crucially, for certain taxa like tropical forest lizards, previous long-term climate stability of the tropics may have eroded both genetic variation and capacity for phenotypic plasticity necessary for survival under rapid environmental change. We are testing how denizens of tropical forests can respond to climate change by 1) studying physiological and phenotypic plasticity of a thermoconforming forest lizard, and 2) transplanting these lizards onto islands in the Panama Canal. These islands are hotter and more variable than the mainland rainforests of the source populations. On experimental islands, we are measuring selection (viability and fecundity) on thermal physiological traits, measuring plasticity and gene expression in response to thermal change, and identifying genomic regions that are important for thermal adaptation. Ultimately, our research can help parse the relative roles of phenotypic plasticity, genomic adaptation, and their interaction during the biological response to climate change.
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