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Migration, local adaptation and competition: three faces of the same coin

Key-words: behavioral ecology, eco-evo mechanics, metapopulation, Tetranychus

My work will focus on the factors that come into account with migration: from the genetic and epigenetic toolkit needed to be a good migrator to the features a settler displays when it arrives to a new patch.

The fact that animals move is well-known. They move in order to find new food resources, escape unfavorable conditions or simply because a certain area became too overcrowded for them to live in. But moving means also facing new, unpredicted conditions and being able to overcome difficulties to not perish.

The aim of my study will be to analyze different aspects of this moving: how a settler adapts and evolves to be able to colonize a new habitat or to face the competition with an hostile lifeform, and how these changes modify the structure of the whole population and the environment.

This will be done using a well-known model organism: the two-spotted spider mite Tetranichus urticae. Various scenarios will be staged, mimicking the different situations a dispersers could face: an hostile environment, a well-established competitor, an overexploited habitat are just some examples. The individuals will be put into this staged ecosystems and monitored in order to learn what forces bring them to move and how they cope with the difficulties, keeping both behavior and genetic factors into account.

The main questions of my work are:

  • What makes a good migrator? Its just the ability to disperse farther than its siblings or is there something more?
  • Are the migrators pre-adapted to face the possible hardships they could find during their journey? Or, conversely, the investment they put on migration left them deficient in other aspects of the life cycle?
  • Is a population made solely of migrators able to evolve at a different pace than the mean rate of the species?
  • What consequences, for the whole population, could have the increase or decrease of the overall migrators percentages?

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