In an article published May 29 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, B UConn biologist Mark Urban reports results of a study that may fundamentally alter how scientists view the importance of evolution in ecological research.
Urban, an assistant professor of ecology & evolutionary biology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, studies ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that shape natural communities across multiple geographic locations. In this study, ‘Evolution mediates the effects of apex predation on aquatic food webs,’ he demonstrates that the evolutionary divergence of populations is just as important as the biodiversity patterns in nature that are based on ecological features, such as the presence of a top predator.
The subjects of this research are the marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum), which is considered an apex (or top) predator, the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), and their shared zooplankton prey. The former salamander species breeds in the autumn and its larvae grow under the ice of ephemeral ponds during winter. As a result, marbled salamander larvae eat zooplankton all winter and grow large enough to eat the spotted salamander larvae that hatch in these same ponds in the late spring.