This project will use the fossil record to examine the effects of a dramatic climatic cooling event that occurred during the Eocene through the earliest Oligocene, to understand how insect communities respond to climate change. During the approximately 23 million year time interval examined in this study, regional temperatures are estimated to have decreased by approximately 15.5oC, while marine temperatures are estimated to have declined by approximately 10oC. This study will determine whether the timing and magnitude of insect response to climate change is more similar to the response seen in the continental record of plants and mammals (suggesting a lag in continental climate change) or in keeping with changes seen in marine taxa (providing support for correlated change in marine and continental systems). Specifically, PI will examine the timing and magnitude of diversity change (levels of species richness) and compositional change (levels of turnover). PI also will examine how the rate of climate change affects insect community response and she will investigate which characteristics of insects will affect their response. That is, how strongly do ecological variables, such as dietary preference and climate tolerance affect the sensitivity of an insect to climate changes?
By using the fossil record to document the effects of climate change on organisms, we can gain a better understanding of how recent and expected climate change will affect individual taxa and their overall communities. Although the proposed study focuses on insects, how these insects responded to climate change will be more broadly applicable to our understanding of how the timing and magnitude of species response of continental and marine organisms may differ. In addition, this study illustrates the great value of collaboration between scientists and amateurs. As such, a local website will be developed for professionals, educators, citizen scientists and the general public. Included on the site will be an interactive key to identify the most common fossil insect groups and modules that will be used to enhance the University of Colorado?s teacher training programs in paleontology. The site will also highlight the contributions made by citizen scientists and will provide a forum for greater collaboration. Engaging graduate and undergraduate students in field based research and providing training in insect ecology and taxonomy, curation and science education also will be important aspects of the proposed project.