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Podolsky Lab Research


sand dollars Adult and larval forms of
a sand dollar

Research in my lab is concerned with physical challenges posed by the environment and their consequences for biological form and function. We use experimental and comparative methods to examine effects of environmental variation on the performance capacities and life-history evolution of diverse organisms, particularly marine invertebrates.

Our interest in the link between functional performance and life-history arises from the fact that life cycles are often composed of stages that experience distinct ecological conditions and selective forces. The goal of our work is to understand how organismal performance evolves at early stages and how selection on performance is integrated across life cycles. In particular, our research addresses two fundamental areas concerned with the functional performance of gametes, embryos, larvae, and juveniles of marine invertebrates. First, investment per offspring varies widely among closely-related species and covaries with other life-history traits. What are the consequences of an evolutionary change in egg size for the functional properties of ontogenetic stages? Second, development takes place within an ecological context that can vary in space and time. How do environmental challenges alter performance capacities and selection on the form and function of ontogenetic stages?

Marine invertebrates are ideal for addressing these questions because (a) they typically have complex life cycles with stages that are distinct in form and habitat, (b) they show wide interspecific variation in egg size, larval form, and mode of development, (c) early stages are often free of parental care, so that egg size reflects maternal investment, (d) the physical properties of water hold special challenges for small scale processes like gamete interaction and larval feeding, (e) reproduction takes place in habitats that can impose significant physiological challenges on development, and (f) performance of early stages can be studied in the laboratory under controlled but ecologically relevant conditions.  The last advantage, in particular, provides numerous opportunities for student involvement in research.  Our research combines theoretical, experimental, mechanistic, and comparative approaches in the lab and field to understand the functional biology and evolutionary ecology of marine life cycles.

Specific projects

Robert D. Podolsky Home | Research Overview | Teaching | Publications
Biology Department | Biology Faculty    |    Grice Marine Laboratory | Grice Faculty