Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


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My broad area of interest is in how organisms adjust growth and developmental in response to environmental variation. Specifically, I am focusing on the physiological mechanisms by which insects translate variation in diet quality and temperature, two environmental factors with strong effects on life histories, into phenotypic variation in body size and development time, two traits highly correlated with fitness. In my work I emphasize the regulation of these traits at the level of the whole organism. The complexity of the traits and the mechanisms that regulate them have led me to develop an integrative research program. Currently, I am employing techniques from quantitative genetics, physiology, endocrinology, ecology, evolutionary biology, behavior, and elemental stoichiometry, respirometry, combining lab, greenhouse and field work.

Here are some of the projects I am working on

The regulation of body size and its plasticity

(in collaboration with Fred Nijhout at Duke University)

In spite of the interest in the ecology and evolution of body size, remarkably little is known about the developmental and physiological mechanisms that determine body size, or how these developmental mechanisms change to result in plasticity of body size. The goal of our research is to understand these mechanisms. Our main findings so far show:

5th instar Manduca sexta
3 factors
early and late last instar Manduca sexta
simplified mechanism of body size regulation



The physiological regulation of simultaneously selected traits

(in collaboration with Derek Roff at UC Riverside and Fred Nijhout at Duke University)

Our understanding of the regulation of body size has led us to expand our research into a new area. The three factors that regulate body size are the same factors that regulate development time. Using simultaneous directional selection experiments, physiological and endocrine techniques as well as the analyses of the G and P matrices of the components of the mechanisms regulating size and development time, we are addressing a fundamental question in evolutionary biology: how do the underlying physiological mechanisms regulating growth and development constrain or enable the evolution of life history traits? Evolutionary biology has largely been restricted to the study of genetic correlation's between traits. We expect this study to reveal that the underlying causes of some genetic correlations, and their responses to selection may, in fact, be due to physiological coordinating mechanisms such as hormones (Davidowitz, Roff and Nijhout, 2005).


The regulation of body size and development time in natural populations: a plant/insect interactions perspective

(In collaboration with Judith Bronstein and Travis Huxman, EEB, UofA)


Our elucidation of the mechanism regulating body size and development time comes from work on a lab colony of M. sexta reared on artificial diet. We are now studying these mechanisms in an ecological context in a natural population.  M. sexta is both the major pollinator and major herbivore of Datura wrightii in southern Arizona.  In collaboration with Judith Bronstein and Travis Huxman (EEB, UofA), we are quantifying the costs and benefits of this interaction in the context of other herbivores and pollinators involved in the system.  One focus is to study how natural variation in the quality of host plants affects larval growth of M. sexta caterpillars.  By using our knowledge of the physiological and endocrine mechanisms regulating body size and development time in a natural ecological context, we have a unique opportunity to explore, at a mechanistic level, how two very important life history traits are able to evolve in a natural setting.  Furthermore, we can bring this knowledge to bear on a wide range of other timely questions regarding the ecological dynamics of alternating mutualistic and antagonistic plant/insect interactions.

collecting pollen
Manduca sexta
Datura wrightii
blacklighting for hawkmoths
collecting pollen off proboscis of Eumorpha typhon
last instar Manduca sexta on Datura wrightii
Datura wrightii in flower


Davidowitz home
Research projects
Life Outside Science