Evolutionary and Ecological Physiology in the Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley

Diversity is our strength

We embrace the diversity of life to study fundamental problems in biology, using techniques from ecology, biochemistry, physiology, and evolutionary biology. We are committed to transforming academia to welcome and support all scientists, broadening the picture of what a scientist looks like so that we can benefit from the full pool of talent that a diverse community brings.  We work actively towards a more equitable, just and inclusive scientific community.

Research Interests

We study how and why environmental variability drives evolution of metabolic physiology and life history in ectotherms. Research in my lab explores evolutionary impacts of seasonality, and consequences of climate change on performance and fitness of (mostly!) invertebrates. Current work in the lab on this theme addresses the impact of spatial and temporal variation in snow cover on montane beetles in the Sierra Nevada, impacts of overwintering aggregations on physiology of lady beetles, local adaptation of sea slugs to variation in salinity and temperature, environmental adaptation in invasive New Zealand mud snails, and biochemical adaptations to cold in tardigrades. Another research theme addresses how life histories evolve to meet demands of variable environments. For this work, we use a comparative system of North American Gryllus field crickets with a flight polymorphism to understand the genomic, metabolic, and functional basis of this classic threshold trait. Beyond these specific research themes, the lab has broad interests in stress tolerances, phenotypic plasticity, thermal biology, nutrition and energetics in animals.

See the Research Page for descriptions of projects.

Research approaches in the lab

Research in the lab combines field-based natural history and experiments with laboratory-based biochemistry and physiology. We use the UC Natural Reserves extensively for fieldwork (mostly Sedgwick Reserve, SNARL, and White Mountain Research station, see Photos). One of the hallmarks of research in the lab is a focus on linking detailed biochemical and physiological measurements to their life history and fitness consequences. Biochemical and physiological techniques are often low-throughput, limiting their application in ecological and evolutionary studies that frequently require large sample sizes and multiple treatment groups. We overcome this challenge by first doing the careful and slow biochemistry and physiology across multiple levels of the biological hierarchy (from molecules, cells and organs to tissues and whole organisms), and then using the results to develop and validate high-throughput assays that recapitulate the phenotype of interest. This approach has enabled us to discover links between genotype and physiological phenotype, and understand how those links are mediated through the biochemistry of metabolic pathways. Another hallmark of research in the lab is the analysis of evolutionary change in the plasticity of physiological traits. Unlike morphological traits that are frequently fixed during development, physiological traits are labile over the entire lifetime of an organism, responding almost instantly to changes in environmental conditions with changes in their rates and intensities. Thus, most physiological traits are best described as curves or functions that describe their environmental sensitivity. Joel Kingsolver and Ray Huey, among others, have pioneered this “curve-thinking”, and this approach is revealing that much of physiological evolution occurs in the shape of these curves. My research incorporates these powerful theoretical advances to understand how environmental variability on a range of timescales, ranging from a fraction of an organism’s lifetime to multiple generations, reshapes the sensitivity of physiological traits to environmental variation.