Pitcher Plant Inquilines

The communities of microbes that live inside these pitcher plants are one of a variety of model systems that we use to test hypotheses about evolutionary ecology in our lab.

terHorst Lab Research

Our research approach is primarily question-driven. We generate theory or use existing theory to generate hypotheses and then find an optimal system in which to test those hypotheses. Consequently, research in the lab spans a variety of systems. For testing hypotheses about rapid evolution, this typically requires populations in which evolution can be measured in a practical time scale, such as in bacteria, protozoa, algae, phytoplankton, or even annual plants.


  • Evolution alters species interactions

    Evolution can occur on very short time scales and when it does it has the potential to affect the outcome of species interactions. This then changes future selection pressure on the population. We are interested in whether or not eco-evo feedbacks like this can occur between predator and prey, or between competitors, but also under what conditions this is most likely to occur.
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  • Trait Evolution and Ecological Stability

    Environmental changes, such as those associated with global climate change, can affect the stability of natural communities. These same changes may also affect how species evolve, especially on very short time scales (months to decades). Our goal is to understand how to measure and predict the stability of natural communities, particularly when species evolve in response to environmental changes. 
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  • Zooxanthellae Evolution

    Symbiotic algae within the genus Symbiodinium have short generation times relative to their coral hosts, which may allow them to evolve rapidly and adapt to climate change. Will Symbiodinium evolution also confer adaptation to their host?

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  • Community Context Evolution

    Species do not evolve in isolation, but rather exist within a complex network of species interactions that all may influence how traits evolve. Moreover, indirect effects in multispecies communities may also affect trait evolution. We are interested in such multispecies effects to understand how species evolve in natural communities.
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  • Genetic Variation in Invasive Species

    The particular genotypes that invade a habitat may determine whether a species successfully invades that habitat. We are interested in which abiotic and biotic factors affect invasion success and whether certain genotypes are able to overcome those factors.
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