Research in environmental physiology focusses on the physiological response of organisms to their environment. Given the ever increasing impact of humans on the natural world, this topic area is of pressing importance.
Work led by Dr Sophie Fauset is investigating current patterns in leaf temperatures in forested ecosystems, with a particular focus on the tropics. Leaf temperatures are not the same as air temperatures since they depend on the local environmental conditions (e.g. light intensity, air temperature, humidity and wind speed), and particular characteristics of the leaves themselves, such as the size and the extent to which stomatal pores open in high air temperature conditions. Previous projects have shown that different species of tree exhibit different leaf temperature patterns, and that leaf temperatures can vary by as much as 18°C (Fauset et al. 2018). Dr Fauset has carried out experiments in collaboration with the University of Sao Paulo that show increasing leaf temperatures due to increasing air temperatures and increasing CO2 conditions, even when measured under the same environmental conditions as control plants (Fauset et al. 2019). This is important because it suggests that under climate change leaf temperatures will increase more than expected purely from predicted increases in air temperatures. Thanks to a Visiting Scientist Fellowship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, this work is continuing in various ecosystems in South West China in collaboration with Dr Hua Lin of the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden.
Professor David Bilton is an expert on water beetle ecophysiology. His work has provided insights into why most species are relatively rare, irrespective of human activity, highlighting the importance of thermal biology and metabolic plasticity in influencing the extent to which species have expanded their ranges since the last ice age, as well as determining their vulnerability to ongoing anthropogenic global change. Prof Bilton’s work also shows that the way aquatic insects obtain oxygen underpins their sensitivity to global change, particularly the combined impacts of rising temperatures and anoxia. Gas exchange mechanisms also seem to be important in setting body size limits in aquatic insects, providing a novel explanation for the seagull-sized dragonflies of the Palaeozoic. In addition, the Bilton group seeks to understanding how freshwater insects succeed in invading saline waters, a topic being investigated in our most research grant.
Fauset S, Freitas HC, Galbraith DR, et al (2018) Differences in leaf thermoregulation and water use strategies between three co-occurring Atlantic forest tree species. Plant Cell & Environment 41: 1618–1631.
Fauset S, Oliveira L, Buckeridge MS, et al (2019) Contrasting responses of stomatal conductance and photosynthetic capacity to warming and elevated CO2 in the tropical tree species Alchornea glandulosa under heatwave conditions. Environmental & Experimental Botany 158: 28-39.
Verberk WCEP, et al…., Bilton DT (2018) Does plasticity in thermal tolerance trade off with absolute tolerance? How morphological adaptations involved in respiratory gas exchange shape thermal tolerance and its plasticity in a group of European diving beetles. Journal of Insect Physiology 106: 163-171.
Pallares S, et al (Incl Bilton DT) (2017) The chicken or the egg? Adaptation to desiccation and salinity tolerance in a lineage of water beetles. Molecular Ecology 26: 5614–5628.
Sophie Fauset & Hua Lin (Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden). Leaf temperature control of canopy tree species in a tropical forest, Presidents International Fellowship Initiative – Visiting Scientist, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
David Bilton PI The evolution of salinity tolerance in aquatic Coleoptera. Fundación Seneca Fellowship for Susana Pallares. €96,000. July 2019-June 2021.