Ecological interactions and evolutionary changes


I’m my name is Atma and I’m a PhD
student in the ecology and evolutionary biology department at the University of
Tennessee in Knoxville I study eco-evolutionary dynamics which
investigates how ecological interactions and evolutionary changes affect each
other. All individuals we see are say plants, animals, and people are
different from each other in some aspect. This individual variation is a necessary
element for evolution and evolutionary biologists have been studying this for a
very long time. Recently ecologists have started
uncovering the importance of individual variation for ecosystems, population and
community dynamics. Interestingly these ecological consequences of individual
variation could affect evolutionary dynamics and evolution could change how
species interact with each other which is ecology. We just came a full circle of
ecology affecting evolution which in turn affects ecology. This is an eco
evolutionary feedback. Consider this hypothetical example of birds which get
all their food which are worms in a one-hour window in the morning. Different
birds might choose a different one hour window. Let’s say that 6:00 to 7:00 in
the morning is when all the juicy worms come out. This could lead to strong
natural selection for birds which choose the 6:00 to 7:00 window and in a few
generation there might be a lot of birds with choose the 6:00 to 7:00 window. But
this could all lead to a strong competition making the 6:00 to 7:00
window not good anymore. We would say that natural selection has modified
competition which in turn changed the selection pressure. It gets complicated
really soon using a verbal description so I use
mathematical models which are great for parsing through feedbacks. I use the
theory of dynamical systems to represent how individual variation plays an
important role in eco evolutionary dynamics. So in one of my projects I
study how individual variation could affect species coexistence through
eco evolutionary dynamics. Understanding how antagonistic species like
competitors and all predators and prey coexist is an important problem in
biology. Using differential equations model I find that two species which are
in competition are more likely to coexist
when individuals within the species are more similar to each other, and for
predators and prey the individuals need to be dissimilar within each of the
species for coexistence to be more likely. In general my broad goal is to
study the ecological and evolutionary consequences of heritable individual
variation.