Research in the Di Santo lab focuses on elucidating the strategies employed by organisms to cope with variability and challenges in their environment. In particular, we investigate the effects of rapid and long-term climate change stressors on the performance and resilience of marine fishes, for instance the combined effects of ocean warming, hypoxia, and acidification on development, growth, survival, aerobic performance and locomotion of fishes. A fundamental aspect of our research is the analysis of biomechanical and physiological performance across the life history of organisms. Analysis of performance across different timescales and species is a powerful approach to quantify physiological plasticity and evolution.
Current research in the lab focuses on three main themes: 1) the role of local adaptation on morphology and physiological performance under changing environments, 2) swimming performance and biomechanics of fishes, including schooling behavior, and 3) thermal biology and scaling.
Climate change and comparative physiology
A major focus of research in the lab is quantifying the effects of climate-related stressors such as warming, hypoxia and acidification on whole-organism physiological performance during different activities. Specifically, recent work has examined the effect of local adaptation and acclimatization on locomotor performance. We combine ecophysiological tools and climate projections to explore the mechanisms and the implications of living in changing environments. Most of the work in the lab has focused on benthic elasmobranchs, and in particular skates, but we are now also working on a new system using silversides to understand the link between social behavior and directional changes in the environment across generations.
Fish locomotion and biomechanics
In the lab we study different types of fish locomotion (swimming, maneuvering, collective movement, walking) by combining automatic and manual tracking of kinematics of body and fins, simulations, robotics, and energetics. We work on many species of fish, including skates, sharks, silversides, catfishes, scombrids, trouts and frogfishes. Our major goal is to identify ways in which fishes may modulate their body and fins to increase speed and/or efficiency or to deal with environmental perturbations.
Thermal biology and scaling
Temperature is considered the 'abiotic master factor' as virtually any physiological process is in some way affected by it. In the lab we are interested in understanding how fishes exploit the thermal variability in their environment to enhance specific processes related to digestion, feeding, locomotion and resting. In addition, we investigate the link between scaling, temperature and metabolism as these relate to responses to extreme thermal events, directional temperature increase, and changes in body size. For this project we adopt a comparative approach to look for patterns of temperature-driven changes in morphology, physiology and tolerance.
A major objective in conservation biology is to understand the patterns and consequences of dispersal capacity on species distribution and resilience when challenged by anthropogenic disturbances. We collaborate with other labs to integrate physiology and biomechanics with genetics and ecological tools to forecast future geographical and population-structure shifts, as well as explain morphological and physiological differences in locally-adapted populations.