|Funding Agency||National Science Foundation|
RUI: Inducible Defenses and Community Ecology: An Integrated Approach
Andrew M. Turner
Predators play a key role in maintaining the structure and function of ecological communities, but the mechanism by which they do so is not clear. Predation has traditionally been studied in terms of how predators alter prey population size, but predators also induce shifts in prey behavior, morphology, and life-history. The non-lethal effects of predators may cascade through ecological systems, altering populations and communities. If true, a full understanding of community structure would depend on a detailed knowledge of not just predator diets, but also how predators alter prey traits. The work outlined in this proposal is aimed at integrating an understanding of prey trait shifts into the larger realm of community ecology. The studies employ freshwater snails and their predators in laboratory experiments, field experiments, and field surveys in order to determine if predator-induced trait shifts alter community organization. Freshwater snails are an ideal model system with which to address the role of trait shifts in ecological systems because their traits are quite plastic, their short generation times facilitate study of the population level effects of trait shifts, they are readily reared in captivity, and they are key players in many aquatic ecosystems. The results of these studies will further our understanding of how natural communities function, thereby enhancing our ability to manage natural resources and conserve biological diversity. The research program places a large emphasis on undergraduate training and integration with teaching and teacher training.