Research program

Our planet is becoming a toxic one. As we continually alter, remove and pollute key properties of our environment, one of the most urgent questions of our time is how (or not) our wildlife and ecosystems will respond. The goal of my current research is to find answers to this important question. I’m broadly interested in how and when behavioural responses of individuals to environmental change, can lead to larger ecological implications, and consequently long-term evolutionary shifts, across multiple levels of biology, from individuals to communities, and species, from prey to predators.

Causes and consequences of individual and group variation

Individuals and groups often exhibit remarkable difference in how they behave and how they respond to change (e.g. increasing temperature, new predators). Behavioural variation is critical for ecology and evolution because 1) it’s what natural selection acts upon, and 2) it provides an indication of the adaptive potential of populations and species to environmental change. My research attempts to quantify this variation and explores how it effects population-level responses to novel environments including biological invasions, responses to aquatic pollution, and adaptation to urban systems. I am also interested how this behavioural variation emerges in the first place, and why it is persists through time.

Selected publications

Michelangeli M*, Melki-Wegner* B, Laskowski K, Wong BBM, Chapple DG (2020). Impact of caudal autotomy on personality. Animal Behaviour, 162, 67-78 [pdf].

Michelangeli M, Cote J, Chapple DG, Sih A, Brodin T, Fogarty S, Bertram MG, Eades J, Wong BBM (2020). Sex-dependent personality in two invasive species of mosquitofish. Biological invasions, 1-12 [pdf]

Michelangeli M, Goulet CG, Kang HS, Wong BBM, Chapple DG (2018) Integrating thermal physiology within a syndrome: locomotion, personality and habitat selection in an ectotherm. Functional Ecology, 32: 970-981[pdf]

Michelangeli M Chapple DG, Goulet CT, Bertram MG, Wong BBM (2018). Behavioural syndromes vary among geographically distinct populations of a reptile. Behavioural Ecology, 30: 393-401 [pdf]

Dealing with multiple stressors in a fluctuating world

Almost all organisms now live in environments that are impacted by human activities which intensify pollution, shift climates and alter habitats. Consequently, many abiotic and biotic factors now exceed their natural range of variation and have become novel environmental stressors which organisms must deal with. Research has tended to examine the impact of these stressors in isolation, but in reality, organisms must deal with the cumulative and simultaneous effects of these stressors. It is therefore critical to investigate the combined impact of stressors in order to generate more realistic inferences about the effects of global change on organismal performance. Identifying when these non-additive interactions arise remains one of the key challenges in global change biology.

To deal with stress, organisms require more energy to fuel metabolism, build physiological coping mechanisms, and maintain homeostasis.  Balancing the needs and costs of obtaining this energy is pivotal for individual fitness and survival, but fundamentally, it involves organisms making behavioural decisions about how (or not) to acquire energy and expend that energy.  Ultimately, these behavioural decisions can shape the outcomes of stressor interactions on organismal performance. My research explores how animals try to balance these behavioural trade-offs and the role that behaviour plays in mediating the outcomes of multiple stressor interactions

The impact of drugs in the wild, from individuals to communities

Pharmaceutical contamination of aquatic systems has become a ubiquitous global problem. Because they are ineffectively removed from wastewater treatment, pharmaceutical by-products end up in waterways via sewage effluent, where they remain biologically active, highly resistant to degradation and bioaccumulate in the food chain. Given that these drugs are designed to have psychotherapeutic effects at low concentrations (nanograms per litre), they have the capacity to disrupt the behaviour of wildlife. Indeed, behaviour represents a sensitive and non-lethal biomarker to assess the effects of pharmaceutical pollution on the environment. Despite this, our understanding of the impacts of pharmaceuticals on the behaviour of wildlife is limited, and even worse, we know next to nothing about how these behavioural responses scale-up to effect community and ecosystem functions.

I am currently in the midst of starting a new research program that aims to address this serious knowledge gap. I will be harnessing new technologies and analytical methods in quantitative genetics to improve the ecological realism of behavioural ecotoxicology studies. This will involve combining laboratory studies, with semi-natural mesocosm experiments and animal tracking devices to provide unparalleled insights into the behavioural and higher-order impacts of pharmaceutical pollution on wildlife. 

Selected publications

Bertram MG, Martin JM, Saaristo M, Ecker TE, Michelangeli M, Deal NS, Lim SL,  O’Bryan MK, Wong BBM (2019) Context-specific behavioural changes induced by exposure to androgenic endocrine disruptor. Science of the Total Environment. 664: 177-187. [pdf]

Sexual selection in a changing world

Many species have evolved elaborate signals (e.g. colour, weaponry, songs) to convey information to potential mates about their reproductive quality. These signals are refined via evolution in response to the signalling properties of the environment, so that the  exchange of signal from sender to receiver is maximised.Unfortunately,  human-induced rapid environment change (HIREC) is altering the visual, acoustic and chemical properties of habitats, which disrupts the delivery of signals reducing their overall effectiveness. I’m interested in understanding how animals adjust their signals in response to HIREC, and what the ultimate evolutionary consequences of these reproductive adjustments are for sexual selection.

Selected publications

Bertram MG, Tomkins P, Saaristo M, Martin JM, Michelangeli M Tomkins RB, Wong BBM. (In Press). Disruption of male mating strategies in a chemically compromised environment. Science of the Total Environment, 703, 134991 [pdf]

Michelangeli M, Tuomainen U, Candolin U,  Wong BBM (2015). Habitat alteration influences male signalling effort in the Australian desert goby. Behavioral Ecology. 26: 1164-1169 [pdf]

Tomkins P, Saaristo M, Bertram M, Michelangeli M, Tomkins R, Wong BBM (2018) An endocrine-disrupting agricultural contaminant impacts sequential female mate choice in fish. Environmental Pollution, 237: 103-110 [pdf]