Meeting Abstract

BART-1  Friday, Jan. 4 19:00 - 20:00  Plasticity, hormones, behavior, and fitness: understanding the long-reach of the mother in wild animals DANTZER, B; University of Michigan

In 1930, the animal ecologist Charles Elton wrote about the “scattered state of ecology” using a macabre analogy. To Elton, ecology was “like an active worm that has been chopped into little bits, each admirably brisk, but leading a rather exclusive and lonely existence”. Bartholomew agreed with Elton given his own views about the importance of integration across biological disciplines and the need to build connections among the different levels of biological investigation rather than erect walls between them. Unlike Elton, to Bartholomew, the touchstone or integrating tendency of biological investigations should be the whole organism. By placing the whole organism and its natural history at the center of any study, Bartholomew thought that one could perform integrative studies where lower (mechanisms) and higher (function) levels of biological investigation complemented one another. I have tried to heed the warning of Elton and the advice of Bartholomew by examining integrative research questions spurred by an appreciation of natural history. Like Bartholomew, I am fascinated with understanding the ecological and evolutionary causes and consequences of variation in the physiology, behavior, and life histories of wild animals. I will discuss some of my research about how ecological conditions that induce changes in maternal glucocorticoids can cause shifts in the growth, physiology, behavior, and life histories of wild red squirrels and meerkats. Some of this plasticity in offspring traits is adaptive, supporting predictions from evolutionary theory that adaptive phenotypic plasticity can facilitate organismal resilience in capricious environments. Finally, I will illustrate how different outcomes from the similar experiments that I have conducted in two species support another viewpoint from Bartholomew that it may be “foolish to look for general answers to specific questions”.