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Nelson G. Hairston, Jr.

Rhodes Professor of Environmental Science

Cornell University

Environmental Dynamics when Evolutionary and Ecological Rates Converge

November 3rd, 2014

Co-sponsored with the Biology Department

Abstract

Aquatic life is continually challenged by environmental change. Excellent research has been dedicated to understanding how freshwater organisms respond as the world to which they are adapted is altered by both natural processes and by human activities such as species introductions, pollution, and changing climate. Within this field, there are many studies of how the characteristics of organisms determine their sensitivity to environmental change.  Recently, evidence has mounted indicating these species characteristics can evolve really fast – at roughly the same rate as changes in population abundances: both occur on the time scale of a few generations. Adaptations can alter both population sensitivity and response to change, and in some cases can itself cause further environmental change creating a feedback loop in which adaptation alters environment, which alters natural selection driving further adaptation, and so on.  I will: (1) explore evidence for these “eco-evolutionary dynamics” in aquatic systems, (2) ask under what conditions they are important, (3) suggest ways to determine how important rapid evolution is for understanding the response of aquatic systems to environmental change, and (4) ask under what circumstances these dynamics are more or less easy to detect.

Biography

Nelson G. Hairston, Jr. is Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Environmental Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University. He received his BS degree in Zoology from the University of Michigan and his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Washington. Since 1985, he has been on the faculty at Cornell where he has been Chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Senior Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. Hairston’s research focuses on the ecological and evolutionary responses of organisms, especially freshwater plankton, to environmental change. His study systems range from close to home (Cayuga, Onondaga, & Oneida Lakes) to more distant (Lake Constance, Swiss Alps), and from large (Lake Ontario) to small (laboratory microcosms).  Much of his research, which has benefitted from a close collaboration with theoretician Stephen Ellner, has shown that populations can adapt by microevolution over very short time periods to changing environments. One of his coolest discoveries is that the dormant eggs laid by lake plankton can survive for decades. This phenomenon permits study of the evolution of past populations using animals hatched from lake sediments that were deposited as much as a century in the past.  And, when long-dormant eggs hatch in nature, their “temporal migration” from past to present influences how they influence the responses of lake ecosystems to environmental change.

Reading

Reading will be posted to the EvoS blackboard group. Anyone with a Binghamton University email address can request to be added to the blackboard group by emailing EvoS[at]binghamton[dot]edu.

Video

Video will be posted following the talk.


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