Understanding how animals cope with environmental variation and implications for anthropogenic environments

Emilie Snell-Rood, Assistant Professor, Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota

    Understanding how organisms deal with environmental variation has implications for predicting how species will respond to environmental change. Here, I give an overview of some of the research in my lab that addresses this issue. First, I will use a study of bat echolocation to illustrate how behavioral plasticity can allow immediate adjustments to environmental variation, in this case climate and sound absorption. Second, I will use studies of learning in butterflies to explore the costs of behavioral plasticity to try to understand why organisms are not infinitely flexible. 
    Third, I will discuss two examples of how such plasticity in development and behavior may play out in anthropogenic environments. Sometimes there may be selection for increased flexibility, as we have shown with cognition of mammals in cities. In other cases, human activity may cause developmental increases in plasticity, as we have found with road salt runoff and brain development in butterflies. 
    Finally, I will briefly discuss current SAFL work exploring how flies cope with air turbulence.