The ability of organisms to adjust to shifting environmental conditions through dispersal is often cited as a general mechanism through which species may cope with climate change. However, the ability of organisms to disperse is itself influenced by environmental change. This EAGER project will explore how temperature, organism development, body size, and dispersal interact to determine the ability of organisms to respond to environmental change by moving into newly-suitable areas. The temperatures experienced by an organism during its development can affect the traits possessed by the adult animal, including overall body size and the relative sizes of different parts of the body. For many animals, particularly insects, warmer rearing conditions result in animals that develop more quickly and are smaller as adults. Since smaller animals often have more restricted movement abilities, climate warming itself may negatively influence the movement ability of organisms and increase their extinction risk more than anticipated from models that use the current dispersal rates to project future range shifts. This project will use dragonflies as a case study of the effects of environmental temperature on growth and later dispersal performance. The rearing temperatures for dragonflies will be manipulated and the effect on adult wing shape and adult body size documented, both of which are critical for movement. Dragonfly movements though the landscape will be measured to quantify how the temperature conditions under which they were reared affect adult dispersal. Quantifying the link from organism development to dispersal in response to climate warming is challenging; however, the potential to provide general insights into how a warming climate will affect species persistence justifies this as an EAGER award.
The project will involve a number of undergraduate students as critical members of the research team, including students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM. Students will receive research training and mentoring that will enhance their educational and employment prospects in science careers. This project will also enhance a partnership with the Bohart Entomology Museum in Davis, California to develop outreach materials on dragonfly ecology that can be used by local school teachers to spark student interest in science.