Our basic interest lies in understanding how the interplay of an organism’s genes and environment shapes its nature. We attempt to learn more about adaptive plasticity in many of its guises by focussing on the fields of ecology, evolution and behaviour.
The majority of current research in our group here in the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford aims to elucidate the issue of phenotypic plasticity. Using clonal organisms such as aphids and springtails, we are isolating and quantifying the phenotypic responses that are veritably attributable to adaptive plasticity. We are examining the variability in these effects over time, in different environments, and both within and across generations. To learn about the costs and benefits of maintaining the flexibility that phenotypic plasticity provides, we work to identify the periods in which model organisms are most sensitive to the cues that induce phenotypic divergences and we then quantify the potential for these organisms to re-adjust their phenotypes in changing environments. Because all organisms are adapted to some extent to live in unpredictable environments, understanding how phenotypic plasticity determines ecological and evolutionary trajectories has a very broad relevance.