Research: Human-dominated Ecosystems

Killifish in The Conversation

UC Davis environmental toxicologist Andrew Whitehead recently was interviewed by The Conversation Weekly. The podcast described three case studies, including Andrew's work, that demonstrate how humans can drive rapid evolution in natural systems. Andrew's research documents populations of killifish that thrive in polluted estuaries. But rather than a source of optimism, Andrew describes this as a "cautionary tale."

Predation on pollinators in urban gardens

Urban flower gardens are growing in popularity, and have the potential to contribute significantly to pollinator habitat.  However, it is unknown whether these gardens provide a safe haven for declining populations or create low quality habitat that contributes little to conservation. Monarch butterflies are abundant in urban gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area. One concern is that monarch caterpillars in cities experience increased risk of predation by human-associated animals such as paper wasps and yellow jackets.

Human influences on the evolution of maize

As a domesticated plant, maize has adapted to conditions in an environment shaped by humans. Thanks to its agricultural importance and longstanding genetic model, there is a wealth of data on both genotype and phenotype that can be used to understand how this adaptation occurred and is still occurring.

Bird communication and traffic noise

Communication plays a central role in the lives of animals, allowing them to defend territories, find mates, and coordinate with offspring and group members. To be effective, animal signals must be detectable in the acoustic, visual, vibratory, and chemical environment in which they are used. Signals may lose their efficacy if the environment changes rapidly due to industrial and urban developments, which may favor plastic responses by individual animals or rapid evolutionary change.

Human influences on bee pollinators

Bee pollinators are critically important for agricultural and natural ecosystems. Together, wild and managed bee species contribute to the pollination of 80 crops with an estimated annual value of >$200 billion globally, >$29 billion for US agriculture, and >$9 billion for California.

Ecological interactions in managed systems

Anthropogenic effects, notably, habitat conversion from natural to managed systems, can alter interactions between plants, insects, and microbial communities; but these effects on such complex systems are poorly understood. Bacteria and yeast that live in floral nectar affect pollinator visitation and influence floral characteristics.