Dissertation Research: Ecological causes and consequences of intraspecific trait variation in an aquatic consumer

Project: Research project

Project Details


Individuals within populations often differ in traits such as size, behavior, morphology, and physiology. Ecologists have only recently begun realizing the importance of this trait variation to understanding the functioning of ecosystems. Advancing this area of research requires not only that we understand how trait variation within a species affects broader ecological interactions, but also how the origins of trait variation and their ecological context determines the magnitude of trait variation that is sustained within populations. This project seeks to clarify that relationship, so as to enable prediction of the conditions under which trait variation will develop. These fundamental issues will be tested using an experimental system of tadpole populations established within artificial ponds. Two experiments will be conducted to test how ecological factors in experimental pond communities affect, and are in turn affected by, morphological and behavioral variation in tadpoles. Important ecological variables, including predation, competition, and spatial variation in food quality, will be manipulated in the ponds in order to quantify the effect on tadpole trait variation. Conversely, the amount of trait variation in tadpoles will be experimentally altered in order to determine how the variation itself affects ecological components of the pond ecosystem.

This research will provide insight into the value of biodiversity, and the consequences of biodiversity loss, for ecosystem functioning. Results will be disseminated through outreach activities targeted at farmers and others attending Penn State's Agriculture Progress Days, and involving inmates at a local correctional facility, thereby enhancing science literacy in diverse groups. Results of this project will be further shared with the public by creating engaging and easy-to-understand videos made available to interested individuals around the world and for use in classrooms via the Internet. This project will provide several undergraduates with field research experience, and support the doctoral research of a graduate student.

Effective start/end date5/1/134/30/14


  • National Science Foundation: $19,370.00


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