2014 winner of the Wiley Fundamental Ecology Award

Congratulations to Lisa Bromfield (UWS), who won the 2014 Wiley Fundamental Ecology Award for her project "Individual strategies to cope with environmental change: A test of the pace-of-life syndrome hypothesis".

Congratulations also go to Timothy Sutton (also from UWS). Timothy's project "Ecology & evolution of fig pollinator - parasite interactions" was highly commended.

The judges were Heloise Gibb, Angela Moles, and the 2013 Wiley Award winner Petah Low

More about Lisa's project:

There is a clear gap in our understanding of the behavioural and metabolic physiological adaptations of small mammas that enable them to survive and reproduce in the face of seasonal and day-to-day variation in environmental conditions. This knowledge deficit is of particular ecological significance in Australian environments, which are often characterised by low and highly variable primary productivity. In response to these harsh conditions, >40% of terrestrial Australian mammal species have evolved an ability to greatly reduce their energy requirements by employing bouts of torpor -a controlled temporary reduction in body temperature. Torpor use has been associated with a reduced risk of extinction among mammals.

Despite metabolic energy expenditure being important for coping with environmental change, large individual variation in metabolic rate and torpor use is commonly reported, even within populations. These consistent individual differences are functionally linked with differences in activity and daily energy budgets. The recently formulated pace-of-life syndrome (POLS) hypothesis proposes that variation in single traits, such as metabolic rate, cannot be understood in isolation because selection has favoured the expression of correlated suites of behavioural, physiological and life-history traits. Yet so far no studies have integrated thermal physiology and thermoregulatory behaviour with other key traits as proposed by the POLS hypothesis. This is an important research topic because intraspecific variation in metabolic physiology may be a critical evolutionally mechanism for the persistence of populations in the face of environmental change.

My PhD project provides a robust, experimental test for consistent individual differences (CIDs) and correlations among key behavioural (boldness and activity), physiological (metabolism and stress response) and life-history (growth rate and reproductive effort) traits in wild-caught house mice (Mus musculus). I will apply a standardised protocol of ecologically relevant measurements across multiple generations to measure: a) consistent and correlated individual differences in key behavioural, physiological and life-history traits; and b) the genetic versus environmental causes of measured CIDs in pace-of-life traits. I will also determine the environment-dependent consequences of measured individual variation in behaviour and metabolic physiology to thermoregulatory behavioural and energetic performance in field experiments conducted under semi-natural conditions.

This research will help uncover the integrated mechanisms that allow individuals to cope with changes in environmental conditions and determine the importance of these mechanisms to the resilience of populations. These coping mechanisms are especially important for Australian mammals because of our naturally unproductive soils and variable climates. Moreover, habitat degradation and introduced predators have caused the extinction and ongoing decline of many small Australian mammals. These population declines are underpinned by individual responses to variation in food availability, habitat quality and predation risk.