Assistant Biology Professor Receives Three Years of Funding

Biology Department Assistant Professor Adam Siepielski, along with national and international collaborators, were recently awarded three years of funding from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESC) to assemble a working group to begin addressing the question: "What causes natural selection?"

The natural world is being changed by human activities at a rate faster than at any time in its recorded history. Climate and other environmental changes (i.e., habitat loss, fragmentation, introduced species) have the potential to exert devastating effects on the plants and animals that surround us. To cope with such change, species must either move to places where environmental conditions remain suitable, or adapt to deal with different conditions. In a world in which habitats are fragmented by human activity, the former is difficult, and the latter may be the only option if species are not to become extinct. It is therefore important to understand the conditions under which species will and will not be able to adapt. Adaptation is the product of two different components: selection which is imposed by the environment and the amount of genetic variation possessed by a species that is subject to this selection. Evolutionary biologists have a surprisingly poor understanding of how the environment affects the strength and form of selection. In this project the team will use existing long-term data to examine the way in which the environment determines selection, and hence predict the conditions under which species are likely to be able to adapt.