Department of Biology
Eco-evolutionary dynamics in chemostats
A central goal of our research is to better understand the relationship between the diversity and the dynamics of ecological communities. Many species of lake plankton (rotifers, water fleas) reproduce parthenogenetically so that multiple clonal lines of one species coexist during the growing season.
As a result, lake plankton communities are not only diverse at the species level but also within species (genetic diversity). Genetic diversity opens the door for rapid evolutionary changes through selection of genotypes.
- How do ecological and evolutionary processes co-determine the dynamics in plankton communities?
- How does genetic diversity of predator populations affect predator-prey dynamics?
- How does stress (through high temperature or cyanotoxins) alter the dynamics of evolvable (multiple clones) vs. evolutionarily static (monoclonal) populations?
We tackle these questions by running controlled chemostat experiments in the laboratory. Chemostats are glass vessels that contain nutrients and aquatic microbial populations, in our case often food chains of phytoplankton and rotifers. Chemostats are bioreactors that are operated as flow-through systems, i.e. input and output can be controlled by the experimenter. Chemostats are uniquely suited to studying the population dynamics of model organisms. Another advantage is that the experimental system can easily be formulated as a dynamic mathematical model.
Our chemostat cultures contain simple food webs: phytoplankton species such as Chlorella, Scenedesmus, Monoraphidium and their predators, rotifer zooplankton such as Brachionus calyciflorus, B. havanaensis or Asplanchna priodonta.
We are in the process of developing DNA-based molecular techniques that allow us to track the genetic diversity of rotifers of the species Brachionus calyciflorus over the course of our experiments.
What we know already
We have shown previously how rapid evolution of the prey can dramatically alter a classic ecological phenomenon, predator-prey cycling. We now turn to predator evolution, predator-prey co-evolution and evolutionary dynamics in more complex, food-web communities.
- James S. McDonnell Foundation collaborative research grant to Cornell and McGill Universities (PI S. Ellner)
- NSERC Discovery Grant (PI G. Fussmann)
- NSERC Equipment Grant (PI G. Fussmann)
- NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship (PI A. Derry)
- Canada Foundation for Innovation New Opportunities Fund (PI G. Fussmann)