Life requires energy. Biological organization—the culmination of life in all its forms—is determined largely by the flow and transformation of energy. Three distinct types of energy affect biological systems: solar radiation (in the form of photons), thermal kinetic energy (as indexed by temperature), and chemical potential energy stored in reduced carbon compounds (i.e. food). Genomic, phenotypic, and taxonomic diversity and complexity are correlated with variation in energy availability in space and time.
McClain lab research focuses on how energy variation, both temporal and spatial, drives diversity, novelty, and complexity in marine invertebrates. Specifically, we are seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted, in both the ecological and evolutionary contexts, to chemical potential energy. This research falls into three broad categories—examining energetic tradeoffs within organisms, how these adaptations and tradeoffs play out on macroevolutionary and macroecological scales, and understanding how these energetic niches impact community assembly and biodiversity patterns. Energy, in the form of temperature and food, is intrinsically linked to climate, so our research also addresses how marine invertebrates will respond to climate change. The lab approach relies upon using a variety of methodologies, including theoretical, field, and synthetic database work. We strive to link these by building ecological and evolutionary quantitative models to both predict biological processes and create null expectations.
The core of our research focuses on marine invertebrates and the bulk of my work is on deep-sea systems, at depths below 200 meters. Globally, temperatures on the seafloor vary between -1 – 4˚ C. Deep-sea organisms acquire chemical energy from falling particulate organic carbon (POC) derived from primary production in the euphotic (1-200 meters) zone, which represents a minimal amount (~1%) of surface production. Given this severe energy constraint, the deep sea provides an exceptionally good system to explore how fluctuations/limitations in energetics impact species, populations, communities, and ecosystems.
You will additionally discover that our lab philosophy is built upon a strong commitment to scientific research and discovery through public engagement and scientific leadership.