I am interested in individual variation in dispersal and its consequences for the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of populations and communities. In my postdoc in the Gonzalez lab, I am asking whether the conditions or configuration of the environment influences the number and phenotypes of dispersers, and how this will affect network connectivity and ultimately, the maintenance of biodiversity. This is a critical question in a time when humans are increasingly causing the destruction and fragmentation of natural habitat. The way in which species modulate their dispersal responses to changing environments will determine their risk of extinction by influencing their ability to exploit patchily distributed habitat fragments, shift their ranges in response to climate change, and maintain genetic diversity.
In my PhD at the University of Toronto, I used experiments, observational studies, and theoretical models to investigate how phenotype and the environment interact to induce or modify dispersal. For example, my co-authors and I have demonstrated that dispersal in the backswimmer Notonecta undulata depends on the interactive effects of competition and predation risk (Baines et al. 2014. Biology Letters), competition and body condition (Baines et al. 2019. Journal of Animal Ecology; Baines et al. Accepted at Evolution), and competition and parasitism risk (Baines et al. 2020. The American Naturalist).
My PhD supervisor Shannon McCauley and reserve manager Stephan Schneider (left panel), and many helpers (right panel) collecting backswimmers in the artificial pond array at the University of Toronto’s Koffler Scientific Reserve for a study on backswimmer dispersal.