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Principal researcher: David Canal 

Period: 2024-2028

Ageing, the progressive loss of physiological integrity with age, lead to the decline in reproductive performance and/or survival, also known as senescence. Contrary to initial assumptions, research in recent decades indicates that senescence is ubiquitous in nature, particularly among vertebrate species. However, whereas previous studies have revealed a great diversity in ageing patterns within and among individuals and across species, the underlying causes and mechanisms of this variation remain poorly understood, particularly in wild populations. Thus, investigating the sources and context-dependence of ageing variation in natural systems is a crucial next step to advance our understanding of this complex and multifaceted phenomenon. Using a wild bird model system, the project will focus on several under-explored aspects of ageing in natural populations. Specifically, we aim to: i) examine ageing trajectories of multiple traits within- and between-individuals and between sexes; ii) investigate intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of individual variation in ageing, such as genetics, natal environmental conditions and reproductive decisions; ii) study the role of the gut microbiome as a critical mediator of ageing. Through these objectives, the proposed research will significantly expand our understanding of the patterns and architecture of ageing in natural contexts, a phenomenon that is inherently interconnected with multiple basic and applied fields.

Principal researcher: David Canal

Period: 2023-2028

One of the most alarming human-induced rapid environmental changes is climate change, which has already had considerable effects on the Earth's ecosystems. Hence, it becomes crucial to understand how populations respond to such changes. Hence, it becomes crucial to understand how populations respond to such changes. This task inherently requires a multidisciplinary framework, as identifying the critical environmental factors is an ecological problem, while population responses can be understood in an evolutionary context. The notion that ecology and evolution are intertwined in the short term provides a new synthetic but still developing framework. The concept of eco-evolutionary dynamics relies on phenotypic integration, whereby a suite of traits interacts at both the genetic and phenotypic levels, resulting in a complex network of interactions that remain largely uncharacterised in natural systems. To fill this gap, I will investigate the phenotypic integration of multiple phenotypes in an avian model population to i) examine the relative influence of multiple biotic- and non-biotic environmental factors, ii) identify the target phenotypes -life history, behavioural or morphological-, or the correlation structure thereof, that selection act upon, and iii) examine the degree by these responses are mediated by phenotypic plasticity or genetic changes. Furthermore, by comparing multiple populations across the species distribution range, iv) I will assess the relative role of different eco-evolutionary mechanisms that promote local adaptation at a biogeographical scale. Thus, the proposed research will solidly expand our understanding of the mechanisms that contribute to adaptation to predictable and unpredictable environmental changes, with fundamental implications for the origin and maintenance of biodiversity

Principal researcher: David Canal

Period: 2019-2022

Understanding the mechanisms by which natural populations respond to environmental fluctuations and their consequences for population persistence are crucial under the ongoing global climate change (CC). Using long-term data from a natural population of a migrant passerine, I will investigate population-level responses to current environmental changes to discriminate whether these responses result from phenotypic plasticity of individuals, changes in between-individual variations or genetic changes affecting mean phenotypes. I will focus on various phenotypic traits characterized by different degrees of within-individual plasticity ranging from traits expressed with little within-individual variation (e.g. morphological traits) to highly flexible, behavioural traits. In addition, I aim to determine the key environmental factors that influence different types of responses acting on different traits. Given i) the availability of morphologic, life history and behavioural data as well as the imminent obtainment of genome-wide genetic markers for several generations of individuals and ii) the fact that the mechanisms mediated by within-individual and between-individual variances have been traditionally neglected in studies of population level responses to CC, the proposed research will solidly expand our understanding of the mechanisms that contribute to adaption to predictable and unpredictable changes in the environment.

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