RoL: Collaborative Proposal: Integrating responses to environmental change across the biological hierarchy: interactions between behavior, plasticity, and genetic change Grant

RoL: Collaborative Proposal: Integrating responses to environmental change across the biological hierarchy: interactions between behavior, plasticity, and genetic change .


  • The environments in which animals live are changing rapidly as a result of human actions, but species have also had to deal with rapidly changing environments during Earth’s past, long before humans were on the scene. Species have adapted to abrupt climate oscillations during the Pleistocene and to novel environments when they colonized new land masses via natural dispersal events. Thus, adaptation to rapid environmental change is an important phenomenon that many species have experienced throughout their evolutionary history. Nevertheless, scientists lack a detailed understanding of the factors that allow some species to avoid extinction during environmental upheaval, while others perish. One major reason that faster progress has not been made in this field is that organisms can respond in several distinct ways when their environments begin to change. Some of these responses, like behavioral adjustments, occur within the lifetime of individual organisms, whereas others, like genetic adaptation, occur over multiple generations. Critically, these responses can interact in complex ways, and to truly understand how species adapt to rapid environmental change we must examine when and how these various responses interact in the wild. This project leverages a unique field experiment to directly measure the responses of wild animals to abrupt shifts in their local environments. The researchers will transplant hundreds of slender anole lizards from a population on mainland Panama to islands in the Panama Canal. These islands differ in their environments. The researchers will then measure behavioral, genetic, and physiological responses in real time to understand how species can adapt to rapid environmental change. The results of this study will be used to help improve predictions of the responses of species to human driven phenomena like climate change, and to understand why some species have gone extinct during prehistoric periods of environmental change whereas others persisted. Finally, the researchers will implement their Evolution in Action (EIA) program, which includes an online, live-action children’s science education show where student scientists from diverse backgrounds will interact with the public.We currently lack a compelling framework by which to understand and predict the responses of populations to rapid changes in their environment because studies 1) rarely consider the simultaneous impact of rapid environmental change on multiple levels of the biological hierarchy (e.g. genes, individuals, populations), 2) are infrequently conducted on contemporary time scales, and 3) tend to focus on one adaptive process (e.g. genetic change) to the exclusion of others (e.g. behavior) when these processes are likely to interact in dynamic feedback loops. For this project, researchers will move Anolis lizards from a single source population to islands in the Panama Canal that vary in habitat structure and climate. They will combine a diverse array of field and laboratory studies to understand how interactions between behavior, plasticity, and genetic change mediate population persistence when environments change. The results of this project will lend themselves towards next-generation predictive models for the responses of organisms to human-mediated environmental change and may reveal new rules by which cross-generational processes such as behavioral inertia and genetic accommodation mediate extinction risk during rapid environmental change.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

date/time interval

  • December 1, 2020 - November 30, 2025

administered by

sponsor award ID

  • 2024179