My research in this field is focused on understanding how climate impacts on the distribution and abundance of terrestrial animals.
My approach combines laboratory and field investigations of ecophysiology and behaviour. A particular focus is on developing trait-based, mechanistic models that enable predictions of distributions under current and future climates with GIS data.
I have been working with Prof. Warren Porter at The University of Wisconsin to develop computer programs that use energy balance equations and microclimate models to predict how traits (behaviour, morphology and physiology) of organisms interact with climatic conditions to affect key fitness components such as potential activity time, development and growth rates, water balance and food requirements.
Importantly, this trait-based approach makes it possible to incorporate evolutionary change. Current and widely-used regression-based approaches to this problem are unable to incorporate evolution because they use the distribution points of the organism as a starting point rather than its traits. The trait-based models we are developing work for any kind of ectotherm or endotherm and hold great promise for enhancing our understanding of the adaptive significance of climate-sensitive traits, for looking at selection gradients across landscapes, and of course for predicting the impact of climate change.
I'm also interested in the evolution of parthenogenesis. The maintenance of sexual reproduction is regarded as a major unsolved problem in evolutionary biology.
My research has focused on species that have secondarily lost sexual reproduction and instead reproduce by parthenogenesis. There are strong geographical and genetic correlates of the transition from sex to parthenogenesis.
Specifically their distributions are often biased towards high latitudes, high altitudes or arid environments. For instance, in the Australian arid zone, we find multiple instances of parthenogenesis in lizards, insects and plants. Parthenogenetic organisms are also very often polypoids, hybrids or both.
I am interested in extent to which the ecological and geographical tendencies of parthenogenetic organisms are influenced by hybridization and by polyploidy.
We need to answer this question if we are to truly understand the relevance of naturally parthenogenetic organisms to the paradox of sex.