Abstract: Madison Schaeffer
Mentor: Dr. Sears
Understanding the genetic basis of thermally sensitive traits has important implications for the responses of organisms to global climate change. Thermal tolerances of organisms have evolved in response to historical variation in environmental temperatures that individuals experience over their lifetimes. Within a population, thermal tolerances often vary among individuals. Such variation results from both the plastic responses of individuals living in particular thermal environments and from genetic differences that have resulted from natural selection. If the range of environmental temperatures changes with respect to historical norms, natural selection can act, either by changing the thermal tolerances of individuals within the population or by causing localized extinction (if genetic variation for thermal tolerances is absent).
Tribolium castaneum, the red flour beetle, is a geographically-widespread, common agricultural pest in Europe and North America. Over its range, T. castaneum experiences a wide variety of temperatures, which likely has caused variation in thermal tolerances. Our research focuses on developing behavioral assays to characterize the thermal tolerances of individual beetles. Development of these assays will allow us to estimate the genetic basis (heritability) for thermal tolerances in a baseline population of beetles to be used in subsequent artificial selection experiments. Knowledge gained from these experiments will provide a basis to predict how populations might adapt to changing temperatures in nature, thereby playing an important role in understanding the impacts of climate change on organisms.