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Variation and Extinction: Models for Alternative Strategies and Climate

Creative Commons 'BY-NC' version 4.0 license

The merging of empirical tests and theoretical models allows us to make sense of complex biological concepts. This thesis explores questions of biological variation (both within and between species) and its persistence through evolutionary time scales primarily through the development of mechanistic models. The first chapter uses a game theory framework to describe drivers of persistence in systems of alternative strategies, and presents a new framework to describe competition within large systems. The second chapter describes the plastic system of developmental polyphenisms in the Mexican spadefoot toads, Scaphiopus multiplicata using a game theory framework. The possibility that anthropogenic climate change will alter selection on developmental polyphenisms is explored. The third chapter uses a mechanistic ecophysiology-based model to explore extinction risk in seven species of tropical New World day geckos (Sphaerodactylidae, Squamata). These studies highlight the importance of incorporating empirical data in modeling. Given anthropogenic changes to climate and habitat availability, ecosystem resilience of particular concern to conservationists. We need tools to predict how species losses will affect eventual equilibrium outcomes – whether ecosystems will survive in a recognizable state, or whether the loss of key species can affect larger-scale stability.

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