The Hufbauer Lab studies evolutionary ecology, or rapid evolution that occurs on time scales that can impact ecological processes. For example, the persistence of plant or animal species under new or changing environmental conditions depends upon whether or not the populations are able to adapt to the conditions present in their habitats. However, competition for resources, habitat connectivity, and other ecological processes can also impact population survival and reproduction – these tradeoffs are what shape the field of evolutionary ecology.

My research focuses on the conservation and management of small or declining populations. I use a small beetle, the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum), as a model system, as it can be very expensive and often logistically and ethically difficult to study these types of populations in the wild. Flour beetles are historic pests of stored grains such as wheat and rice, but they have been cultivated for use in experimental evolution studies for several decades because they are easy to rear and have a short life cycle, allowing for experiments that span multiple generations.

Above: Enlarged image of Tribolium castaneum.

Dispersal & Evolutionary Rescue

I am currently using the flour beetle to study how to best rescue small populations from extinction that are declining due to exposure to environmental stress (pesticide, in my system). In order to do this, I am using several management-guided dispersal strategies that utilize different numbers and sources of migrants. This movement of individuals introduces new genes to the population, which can help alleviate negative processes that impact small populations such as inbreeding, genetic drift, and demographic stochasticity. The increase in genetic diversity can also promote adaptation to novel environmental conditions (evolutionary rescue).

I am investigating the strategies for choosing individual migrants as well as the number/frequency of dispersal that will most likely lead to rescue in stressful habitats.

Reintroductions of Wild Butterfly Populations

I am developing a protocol to study the benefits of outcrossing for reintroduction programs using a wild population of Colorado butterflies. This will primarily involve the following:

  • I will capture and transplant individuals from large populations to new habitats where populations have previously gone extinct.

  • If possible, distinct populations will be identified and outcrossing will be facilitated either in the lab or the field.

  • The fitness of the reintroduced populations will be monitored for over multiple generations.

Above: the Eyed Brown or Satyrodes eurydice fumosus, a declining species in Colorado that may be well suited to this kind of study.

Above: Fenced experimental plots in Kingman Marsh in Washington, DC (October 2017).

Past Work: Wetland Community Ecology

My undergraduate honors thesis focused on differences in benthic composition of a tidal, urban, freshwater marsh in Washington, DC. Specifically, I investigated the impacts of goose exclusion fencing on the macroinvertebrate community beneath areas where vegetation was present (fenced areas) vs. areas where vegetation was eaten by geese (unfenced areas). Flies, oligochaete worms, and nematodes were the most abundant taxa, which were able able to persist in higher densities in mudflat areas, and taxa diversity increased with the organic matter content of mud samples.

This work helped to inform the progress of restoration efforts and provided insights on invertebrate colonization patterns within the wetland.