behavioral and physiological ecology
Office Hours: M W 9:00-10:00 F 10:30-11:30
Marsh Life Science Building, Rm 111
Phone: (802) 656-8521
Website: Linden Higgins
I work at the interface of ecology, evolution, and behavior, using a broadly-distributed spider to study how populations of this species persist in very different habitats with little obvious morphological differentiation. In the past, I have focused on behavioral and physiological ecology to better understand the environmental factors underlying observed patterns of life history variation among populations. Currently, I am examining the relative importance of genetic and environmental factors in adaptation of juvenile development, size at sexual maturity, and age at sexual maturity to local environmental conditions.
One major goal of ecologists is to understand the distribution of organisms across habitats. Many organisms are habitat specialists, found only in particular habitats and often associated with a narrow range of ecological conditions such as temperature regime, soil types, or plant host. The evolution of such habitat specialization has attracted a lot of attention from evolutionary ecologists. However, habitat generalists are also a common, and much less studied, phenomenon. An understanding of how organisms can survive in a variety of environments can also aid our understanding of how local adaptation occurs.
The large, tropical spider Nephila clavipes is widely distributed orb-weaver in the family Tetragnathidae. It is found from the southeastern United States to Misiones Argentina. Within this range, it occurs in a variety of habitats, from lowland tropical rainforests receiving 5 m of rain annually to mid-altitude deserts with 30 mm of rain annually. Using this spider and related species, I seek to understand the mechanisms whereby a single species can survive in diverse environments with little evidence of heritable (genetically determined) local adaptations.