The Eliason lab uses a combination of field and lab-based studies to investigate how fish are limited by environmental challenges. We use an integrative approach to examine questions across multiple levels of biological organization (population, whole animal, organ, cellular, genome) using a variety of techniques (e.g. biologgers, respirometry, in vivo surgical techniques, blood gas measurements, microscopy, enzyme assays). Our research addresses both basic and applied research questions.
Physiological Local Adaptation
Our research examines how fish populations are physiologically locally adapted to their environments. Accumulating evidence suggests that reproductively isolated populations are locally adapted to their specific environmental conditions, though the extent and scale of physiological local adaption is poorly understood. Our research examines how the integrated physiological mechanisms that support performance traits differ across populations. Research questions include: Which species and populations may be able to withstand current and future environmental change and why? Can populations evolve fast enough to keep pace with climate change? How will species distribution and abundance change? Much of this work has focused on salmon populations, though we are expanding to investigate more species.
Coping with Environmental Stress
We are interested in the underlying physiological mechanisms that allow fish to cope with natural and anthropogenic stressors in their environment. Global climate change has profound implications for aquatic ecosystems, including changes in temperature, hypoxia, ocean acidification, and salinity. To date, most of our research has focused on the physiological mechanisms of thermal tolerance. Temperature has been coined an ecological master factor for ectotherms and plays a central role determining species and population distribution. Our research specifically examines how the cardiorespiratory system sets thermal limits.
We are fascinated by how the cardiorespiratory system supports performance and fitness. Cardiorespiratory physiology supports the cellular respiration required for essential activities such as locomotion, growth, reproduction and body maintenance. Wild fish must partition oxygen delivery among competing organ systems (e.g. muscles, stomach and intestines, gonads, gills) to simultaneously complete various tasks (e.g. swim, digest, sexually mature, osmoregulate) according to the capacity of the heart since all capillary beds cannot be simultaneously perfused. Furthermore, environmental challenges (e.g. temperature, hypoxia, salinity, pH, toxicants) can limit oxygen consumption rates and cardiovascular performance, and wild fish are likely to encounter multiple, simultaneous stressors.