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Zachary Stahlschmidt Biology

Zachary Stahlschmidt is an assistant professor of biology at Pacific

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Biology professor to study trait tradeoffs in crickets

How do hot, hungry crickets make decisions?
Johanna BakmasOct 29, 2015

Zachary Stahlschmidt, assistant professor of biology at University of the Pacific, has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for a project that will study multi-trait tradeoffs in crickets.

The three-year $398,304 grant was originally awarded to Stahlschmidt while he was teaching at Georgia Southern University but was transferred to Pacific on October 5 after he was hired as a faculty member in the Department of Biology.

"A multi-trait tradeoff is similar to deciding between more than two things," says Stahlschmidt. "For animals, the resource is often nutrition, and their choices can include investment into reproduction, locomotion, and immunity. Because animals typically don't have enough resources to maximize all of these important traits, they have to allocate toward one trait at the expense of another."

The project, titled (RUI) From Complex Environments to Underlying Mechanisms: A Network Approach to Multi-trait Tradeoffs, is a collaboration between Stahlschmidt and co-Principal Investigator, Tavis Anderson of the Animal Disease Center at the USDA.

In biology, examining interactions among more than two traits is rare. Using field crickets as test subjects, Stahlschmidt and his team will measure the role of environmental factors, such as food availability and temperature, on traits like reproduction, immune function, and locomotion. His research will be the first to use a network analysis approach to study life history tradeoffs in the context of environmental change.

"Field crickets are nice models because they share the same activities and requirements of all animals," explains Stahlschmidt. "They need to eat, avoid being eaten, mount immune responses and breed. They just happen to do a lot of these things within a very small window of time, which means it's easy for scientists to examine how they navigate multi-trait tradeoffs."

The project will provide extensive research training to undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom will come from demographic groups that are under-represented in the sciences. To complement their research, Stahlschmidt's team will develop a citizen science outreach program associated with urban ecology and an accompanying website designed to educate elementary and junior high students about the importance of insect biology.

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