What is physiological ecology? And why should I care?
Fortunately for me, these questions are easy to answer, and I will begin with an example.
Since the mid 20th century, the agricultural industry used dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) to control crop-hungry pests. In the following decades, bird populations dramatically declined, prompting Rachel Carson to write The Silent Spring in 1962.
Unbeknownst to many, DDT interrupted a vital protein, calcium ATPase, that is responsible for transporting calcium in organisms. Without calcium, bird eggs became soft and were crushed under the weight of adult birds trying to keep their eggs warm.
As a silver lining, The Silent Spring inspired policies to ban DDT in agricultural practices, and the story also underscored the link between physiology and ecology. Specifically, DDT changed how birds function (physiology) thereby influencing the abundance and distribution (ecology) of many avian species.
More recently, the collapse for bee colonies has been linked to an abundance of physiological mechanisms, including stress, exhaustion, and pesticides. But the link between these two fields is nothing new. Joseph Grinnell (1917) pointed to physiological tolerances as one of the mechanisms that determines why plants and animals live in some habitats but not others.
As environments change, so must the organisms that live there. Physiology provides a way to understand why nature changes and predict how life will change in the future.