Metabolic rate is the "fire of life" and can have far reaching consequences for the physiology, behavior, and ecology of organisms. However, less is known about how it evolves as a function of the environment. Our research utilizes laboratory studies, field selection experiments, and larger meta-analyses to examine the extent to which metabolic rate varies among individuals in a population, how repeatable it is across time and changing conditions, its link to fitness and whether/how that varies across environmental gradients.
the integrated phenotype
Organisms are the integrated expression of multiple traits, and how these different traits co-vary at the functional and genetic level may have important consequences for performance. Our research focuses on a suite of ecologically-relevant traits - including physiological, behavioral, and life history traits - and the causes and consequences of their covariation at the individual, population and species level. For example, is there a strong evolutionary and/or functional association between minimum and maximum rates of metabolism? Do rates of energy metabolism evolve alongside the life history? And, are phenotypic shifts in metabolic rate accompanied by concomitant changes in behavior?
phenotypic plasticity in energy metabolism
Individuals exhibit consistent differences in their metabolic rates and these individual differences have consequences for different measures of performance such as rates of food intake and somatic growth. However, metabolic rate is not an immutable trait. In a series of laboratory food manipulation experiments with brown trout (Salmo trutta), we have shown that energy metabolism is a plastic trait and that metabolic flexibility can be an adaptive strategy for maximizing growth and minimizing weight loss under changing food levels.
EARLY life effects ON energetic DECISIONS
Environmental conditions during early life can have a profound impact on the developing phenotype and its subsequent performance as an adult. How do organisms cope with a poor start to life? And, what are the consequences of these coping mechanisms for their individual life history trajectories and fitness? Prof Auer’s research shows organisms can respond to early setbacks through shifts in their energy allocation decisions and subsequent life histories strategies. However, these life history responses cannot fully compensate for early setbacks but, rather, reflect mitigative shifts in energy allocation that make the best of a bad situation.