Laboratory for Evolutionary and Conservation Ecology

Douglas Morris' research laboratory for evolutionary and conservation ecology (Room CB 3019), and our globally unique Habitron, are the foci for ongoing theoretical studies, field observations and experiments in several related areas of evolutionary and conservation ecology. Our guiding principle is that adaptive "behaviors" of organisms are reflected in repeated patterns in ecological populations and communities.

  • Studies include long-term field experiments on small mammals in boreal forest communities in northern Ontario, controlled experiments in Lakehead University's novel Habitron, very long-term studies estimating the fitness of white-footed mice occupying forest and fencerow habitats in southern Ontario, and creative laboratory studies on short-lived organisms. Our habitat research is focused on the development, tests, and applications of isodars and adaptive landscapes. We are especially interested in theory that integrates evolutionary understanding with population and community dynamics.

  • We have monitored white-footed mouse life history continuously with nest boxes since 1981. Most of this work centers on developing and testing theories on the state-dependent evolution of litter size. The research reflects our view that 1, life histories evolve as adaptive responses to environmental heterogeneity, and 2, that the resulting life history can be used to gain insights into other evolutionary strategies such as the evolution of habitat selection and its implications to abundance and distribution.

  • We use Joel Brown's invention of seed trays to experimentally address issues of density-dependent population regulation and habitat selection in both forested and prairie ecosystems. We see two main advantages to this research program. 1. Patterns of density and distribution among habitats are intricately related to the patch-use decisions of individual foragers. 2. Seed trays allow us to conduct replicated factorial experiments at the spatial and temporal scales that are important to individuals We are now integrating this work with separate behavioral assays in order to better understand the lock-step connections between adaptive behaviors and population and community dynamics.

  • A long-term objective has been the use of evolutionary theories to understand the coexistence of species. This component involves the integration of theories of density-dependent habitat selection with those of competitive coexistence. Field work includes studies on the habitat-dependent coexistence of artic rodents in Nunavut as well as experiments in Lakehead University's Habitron.

  • We are committed to using our understanding of evolutionary ecology in efforts to conserve Earth's rapidly shrinking biodiversity. One set of projects emphasizes analyses of readily available data. Examples include using human habitat selection to forecast global conservation strategies, assessments of a global tragedy of the commons, and the interconnections among human migration, population growth and climate change. The second set of projects explores how adaptive behaviours can either accelerate or reduce risks of extinction. Future work will apply our progress in evolutionary ecology to better predict the implications of human activities on the diversity of life, and to evaluate how those activities can best be modified to maximize residual biodiversity.