Evolutionary responses to variable and unpredictable environments

– Ratikainen Lab

The climate is changing not only towards warmer and wetter conditions, but we also expect greater variability and unpredictability, such that more extreme environmental conditions should occur more frequently.


Svalbard rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta hyperborea) Photo


Living organisms have evolved various ways to cope with such variable and uncertain environments, but more work is needed to understand whether these adaptations will be enough to cope with the upcoming increase in environmental unpredictability.

In the long term evolution will favour not only those that survive well and produce many offspring on average, but even more so those that have evolved strategies to achieve such consistently high survival and reproductive success independent of environmental unpredictability.

For example, organisms can try to buffer themselves against unpredictable poor conditions by storing fat or insulation, or by being more careful and conservative in how they spend their time and energy over their lifetime.

Alternatively, organisms can try to be ready for a wider variety of environmental conditions by being generalists and utilise many different resources, or by producing lots of offspring with different properties so at least some will survive well and reproduce no matter what environmental conditions they encounter.


In this research lab we build general theoretical models that can help us predict under which conditions organisms should show these different kinds of adaptations to variable and unpredictable environments.
We also use models to understand how single organisms can use several different kinds of adaptations and how these adaptations will interact with each other, perhaps over different evolutionary timescales.

Based on this we will be able to provide more powerful predictions for future effects of environmental change on natural populations and thereby help with conservation and management of biodiversity.

New collaborators

If you are interested in becoming part of our group as an MSc student or PhD candidate, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.





Thomas Haaland (PhD candidate, CBD, NTNU)

Jon Wright (Professor, CBD, NTNU)

Jarle Tufto (Professor, CBD, NTNU)

Carlos Botero (Ass. Professor, Washington University St. Louis)


Centre for Biodiversity Dynamics at NTNU