Ecology, Evolution, and Genomics in Changing Environments
Training in Integrative Biology - Supported by the U.S. Department of Education

Research Themes

The research theme of the KSU Division of Biology GAANN program is Ecology, Evolution and Genomics (EEG) in Changing Environments. Ecological and evolutionary genomics is a grand challenge of this new century -applying genomic data and techniques to ask new and pressing ecological and evolutionary questions. Our overarching goal is to understand rapidly changing environments, by studying genomic, ecological and evolutionary interactions at the individual, population and community levels (indicated in the figure on the right), as well as interactions with higher levels including the ecosystem. Some potential questions include: How are organisms and higher-order ecological interactions changing over long and short timescales? What is the genetic and molecular basis for ecological adaptation and speciation? Do organisms have sufficient evolutionary potential to respond to stressful environments on contemporary timescales?

We link three existing areas of strength within the KSU Division of Biology -- the complementary disciplines of ecology, evolution, and genomics – to develop the interdisciplinary breadth and depth of scientific expertise required of the next generation to meet the environmental challenges of a rapidly changing planet. The Ecological Genomics Institute (EGI) coupled to conceptually dynamic programs in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology provides the intellectual environment, atmosphere of interdisciplinary learning, and state-of-the-art infrastructure that allows us to address questions concerning how organisms may adapt to fast-paced and novel environmental change (IPCC 2007). The NSF-funded Konza Prairie Long Term Ecological Research program (LTER) (1980-present) and KSU Targeted Excellence program Institute for Grassland Studies provide unique insights and integrative research opportunities for GAANN fellows into the dynamics and functioning of tallgrass prairie ecosystems, while serving as a critical baseline for identifying and interpreting ecological responses to environmental change.  The Konza LTER program encompasses studies across multiple ecological levels and spatial and temporal scales.

Students in the interdisciplinary GAANN graduate training program will learn concepts and skills transferable to a variety of ecosystems across the biological hierarchy and meld approaches from multiple scales and techniques. Students will be given a synthetic foundation in ecology, evolution and genomics (EEG)—from the genes and genomes that lodge variation on which natural selection acts, to the adaptations in form and function, and finally to the dynamics of communities and ecosystems as they reflect species interactions.  As environments change globally at a fast pace and in novel dimensions, we must react to critical problems with comprehensive and innovative solutions. To meet these challenges, our students will develop critical educational and communication skills in an interdisciplinary atmosphere.