Insect timing: mechanisms, plasticity and interactions

Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (2013-2016)

Summary

Timing plays an important role in all living systems. Endogenous clocks enable organisms to anticipate and adapt to daily or seasonal variation in environmental conditions. Being at the right time at the right place crucially determines the chance to find sufficient food, the success of mating, the success in raising brood, the chance to synchronise with mutualistic interaction partners and the likelihood to escape antagonists or harmful environmental events. Thus, proper timing of development, maturation, population phenology and a wide range of different behaviours is of paramount importance for the reproductive success and survival of all animals. Under laboratory conditions, the molecular basis of daily timing via endogenous clocks is intensively studied in few model organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster. However, little is known about the functional impact of such clocks in real nature. Our knowledge on timing mechanisms on time scales exceeding one day is even scarcer and restricted to few species. We also do not know how endogenous clocks and other timing mechanisms promote the adaptation to changing environmental conditions. Further, the impact of clocks and other evolutionary achieved timing mechanisms on the fitness of individuals, eusocial insect colonies, or on the synchronisation of multitrophic biotic interactions are little understood.

The proposed Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) will address these important questions using anintegrative approach. We will focus on insects, since insects are in particular masters in behavioural timing and in adapting quickly to changing environmental conditions, which made them the predominant animal taxon on our planet with enormous ecological impact. We will investigate mechanisms of proper timing in selected species at the molecular, cellular and neuronal networklevels, analyze the influence of timing on individual behaviour and interactions in social groups,populations, and communities, and, ultimately, determine the impact of proper timing on fitness. Each of these levels is important for its own sake. Yet, the new and important step we take here is to integrate the analyses of the different proximate/mechanistic levels of timing into an ecological context (success on a daily base, throughout the individual life span, and across generations).

The proposed CRC intends to establish a platform integrating different biological subdisciplines
ranging from molecular biology via neuroethology to ecology in order to promote vivid synergistic interactions among them. The research of this CRC will go beyond current studies in the individual biological disciplines and will bring together ecological concepts with mechanistic research on the molecular, neuronal and organismic level. Our long term goal is to elucidate the proximate mechanisms underlying timing, and at the same time, unravel the ultimate  consequences of proper timing for fitness in real ecosystems and in the context of global  environmental change.

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