Integration of animal homeostatic function into community ecology is essential to characterizing and forecasting responses of ecological communities to changing environmental conditions. Animals maintain homeostasis through physiological and behavioral responses to changing environmental factors including temperature, water availability, and habitat disturbance. Any conditions or stressors that alter animal homeostasis may have potential to reverberate through entire ecosystems via changes in ecological processes including trophic interactions (e.g. foraging, food selection) pollination, competition, and nutrient cycling. While studies suggest consumer homeostasis is likely integral to ecosystem processes, testing for effects of animal physiological function on ecological communities has been hampered by technological limitations in tracking both animal movements in situ and directly linking their behavior to impacts on other parts of the community.
For my research project, we will manipulate rodent physiological function and use automated digital radio-telemetry arrays to conduct an extensive study of individual movements on the landscape. We will also use experimental stable isotope enrichment of flowering plants to close the loop between bottom-up and top-down forces by testing how consumer behavioral dynamics alter seed dispersal, germination, and community structure in an arid grassland ecosystem (SW New Mexico).