Caroline Williams

Caroline Williams

John L. and Margaret B. Gompertz Chair and Associate Professor

Phone: (510) 643-9775
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Research Description

The Williams lab studies the evolution of metabolic physiology in ectotherms, using insects as models. We are interested in the mechanisms and consequences of metabolic responses to emerging winter environments. This is important because winter climate change is altering energy balance, phenology, and cold stress in overwintering organisms leading to cascading biological impacts that carry over into the growing season and affect survival and fitness. The ability to adapt or acclimate metabolic systems to compensate for changing winter conditions will strongly determine organismal responses to winter climate change. However, we know little about the mechanisms underlying metabolic plasticity in ectotherms, nor the evolutionary potential of metabolic systems on macro or micro scales. As climate change leads to the emergence of novel climates, we can no longer rely on bioclimatic envelope models to predict organismal responses to climate change; we need a mechanistic and predictive understanding that explicitly includes winter processes. 

We use an integrative “genes to fitness” approach through the lens of intermediary metabolism and metabolic physiology to find the genes that influence overwintering energetics, from the level of naturally segregating variation within populations, through inter-population local adaptation, to interspecific divergence. This provides a novel framework for predicting ecological and evolutionary responses to winter climate change based on a mechanistic understanding of metabolic physiology. Addressing genotype – phenotype interactions through the lens of intermediary metabolism is advancing our understanding of the genetic control of complex, fitness-relevant traits.

Selected Publications

Sunny NE, Kalavalapalli S, Bril F, Garrett TJ, Nautiyal M, Mathew JT, Williams CM, Cusi K (in press) Crosstalk between branched chain amino acids and hepatic mitochondria is compromised in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism DOI:10.1152/ajpendo.00161.2015.

Williams CM, Chick WDU, Sinclair BJ (2015) A cross-seasonal perspective on local adaptation: Metabolic plasticity mediates responses to winter in a thermal-generalist moth species. Functional Ecology, 29: 549-561. COVER PHOTO.

Williams CM, Henry HAL, Sinclair BJ (2015) Cold truths: how winter drives responses of terrestrial organisms to climate change. Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 90: 214-235. Recommended, Faculty of 1000.

Williams CM, Watanabe M, Guarracino M, Ferraro MB, Edison AE, Morgan TJ, Boroujerdi AFB, Hahn DA (2014) Cold adaptation shapes the robustness of metabolic networks in Drosophila melanogasterEvolution, 68:3505-3523

O’Neil ST, Dzurisin JDK, Williams CM, Lobo NF, Higgins JK, Deines JM, Carmichael RD, Zeng E, Tan JC, Wu GC, Emrich SJ, Hellmann JJ (2014) Gene expression in closely-related species mirrors local adaptation: consequences for responses to a warming world. Molecular Ecology 23:2686-2698.

Sinclair, B.J., Stinziano, J.R.UWilliams, C.M., MacMillan, H.A., Marshall, K.E., Storey, K.B. (2013) Real-time measurements of metabolic rate during freezing and thawing of the wood frog, Rana sylvatica: implications for overwinter energy use. Journal of Experimental Biology 216:292-302.

MacMillan, H.A., Williams, C.M., Staples, J.F., Sinclair, B.J. (2012) Reestablishment of ion homeostasis during insect chill coma recovery. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212788109.

Sinclair, B.J.; Williams, C.M.; Terblanche, J.S. (2012) Variation in thermal performance among insect populations. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 85:594-606.

Williams, C.M., J.J. Hellmann and B.J. Sinclair (2012a).  Lepidopteran species differ in susceptibility to winter warming.  Climate Research 53:119-130.

Williams, C.M., K.E. Marshall, H.A. MacMillan, J.D.K. Dzurisin, J.J. Hellmann and B.J. Sinclair (2012b) Thermal variability increases the impact of autumnal warming and drives metabolic depression in an overwintering butterfly.  PLoS ONE 7:e34470.

MacMillan, H.A.; Williams, C.M.; Staples, J.F.; Sinclair, B.J. (2012) Metabolism and energy supply below the critical thermal minimum of a chill-susceptible insect. Journal of Experimental Biology 215: 1366-1372.

Williams, C.M., Pelini, S. L., Hellmann, J. J., & Sinclair, B. J. (2010) Intra-individual variation allows an explicit test of the hygric hypothesis for discontinuous gas exchange in insects. Biology Letters6: 274-277.

Pelini, S.L.; Dzurisin, J.D.K; Prior, K.M., Williams, C.M.; Marsico, T.D; Sinclair, B.J.; Hellmann, J.J. (2009) Translocation experiments with butterflies reveal limits to enhancement of poleward populations under climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A.106:11160-5.