Heidinger receives grant to study how sparrows adapt to climate change

Britt Heidinger, associate professor of biological sciences at North Dakota State University, has received a $251,741 grant to fund her research project, titled MCA: Identifying the genomic mechanisms mediating rapid responses to environmental change in a widespread songbird. This project is being co-funded by Integrtv Ecological Physiology (IEP) and EPSCoR.

Exploring how living creatures adapt to changing environments is the main focus in this study. With climate change becoming increasingly urgent, understanding how species evolve to cope with rising temperatures has become crucial. While they expect that evolutionary changes will help with the effects of higher temperatures, they still need a better grasp of how these changes happen over time.

For this study the research team is using a special collection of house sparrow samples from different parts of the United States. These samples cover a span of approximately 60 years. The aim is to identify specific parts of the sparrows' genetic code that are linked to climate conditions and body size. By comparing the genes of sparrows from the past to those of present-day sparrows, the team also want to see how these genetic regions have changed. By doing this they hope to find out if certain genetic traits can predict how the sparrow populations will shift.

This study aims to provide advanced training in modern genomics, benefiting both the Heidinger’s work and her ability to mentor post-docs, students, and participants in various educational programs. This research will impact her lab, the NDSU Research and Mentoring for Post baccalaureates in Biological Sciences (RaMP) network, and her undergraduate/graduate classes. The project will also generate data used to develop interactive learning materials for Evolution courses and climate change-related modules for the Nurturing American Tribal Undergraduate Research and Education (NATURE) program, benefiting Native American students in North Dakota

The MCA program offers an opportunity for scientists and engineers at the mid-career stage to support and advance their research program and career. Heidinger is the second recipient of this award from North Dakota State University (NDSU). The first recipient was Ned Dochtermann associate professor of Biological Sciences at NDSU.

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