Many behaviours exhibited by free-living animals that are crucial for survival and reproduction involve elevated levels of activity or “workload”. Individuals with higher workload ability should be able to cope with the high metabolic demands imposed by these behaviours better and consequently would have higher fitness. High workload could also result in costs such as impaired reproduction or reduced survival. However, the underlying physiological mechanisms that allow individuals to have higher workload ability, and the mechanisms underlying costs of high workload remain poorly understood.
Using birds as my study system, my PhD thesis took an exercise perspective and investigated the physiological basis of aerobic capacity and workload ability, using both a comparative, phylogenetic approach, as well as various laboratory-based experimental approaches. My colleagues and I have uncovered several physiological mechanisms mediating workload capacity in birds. Additionally, we also demonstrated experimentally that physiological adjustments to high workload can negatively impact reproduction.
My current work aims to integrate multiple physiological systems when studying the physiological basis of workload ability, and more generally, life-history trade-offs in animals. Specifically, I am using rodent models to investigate how individual variation in endoplasmic reticulum stress and mitochondrial physiology is associated with whole-organism physiology, as well as life-history traits such as locomotor activity, energy metabolism, and reproductive performance in animals.