Michelle Tseng

Faculty Profile

Faculty Profile

Assistant Professor

We are fascinated with the natural world around us and how this world will look in the future, in light of ongoing habitat and climate change.  We study the evolutionary and ecological processes that help or hinder responses to changing environments.  We test ecological and evolutionary theory using laboratory and field experiments with aquatic plankton communities, insects, and parasites. 

Research Associate 2013-2016, UBC
Founding and Managing Editor, Evolutionary Applications, 2007-2013
Postdoctoral Fellow 2006-2008, UBC
Ph.D. 2005, Indiana University, USA

Contact Information

Room 110, Biodiversity Research Centre

Research Interests

1. How do species interactions mediate adaptation to new environments?

Global climate change is resulting in increases in mean and variation in temperature. Concurrently, organisms are experiencing novel environments via land-use change and eutrophication.  Can organisms adapt fast enough to respond to these changing environments?  Ongoing projects: How do species interactions such as predator-prey, host-parasite, and competitors, alter short- and long-term adaptation to new environments? What happens to consumer-resource dynamics when the resource adapts to environmental change faster than the consumer does? 

2. Evolution of thermal reaction norms and thermal performance curves

Temperature is a key abiotic factor that regulates individual metabolism, population dynamics, and community structure.  Our research investigates  phenotypic plasticity in response to temperature change and how quickly this plasticity evolves.  An organism's 'fitness' across a range of temperatures is known as the thermal performance curve (TPC). Importantly, TPCs are often incorporated into models that predict species range limits or population responses to climate warming, and a common assumption of these models is that TPCs do not evolve.  We're interested in how quickly, an in what way TPCs evolve in nature.

3. Cascading effects of temperature adaptation through aquatic food webs

We are very interested in the phenomenon that algae/phytoplankton grown at cooler temperatures produce more healthy omega-3 long-chain unsaturated fatty acids. Our recent work has shown that zooplankton show higher population growth and accelerated thermal evolution when they are fed these high-quality cold-adapted phytoplankton. We are ramping up our algae-temperature work to better understand the trophic consequences of algal thermal adaptation.

4. Body size, body size, body size (and cell size)

Body size is arguably the single most important ecological trait.  Given the importance of body size you'd think that natural selection would have settled on one perfect body size.  Curiously, body size varies a lot!  But why?  How important are biotic vs abiotic factors in shaping organism body size? How quickly does body size evolve?  Can we look back in time to figure out key environmental factors that have shaped long-term trends in body size?  Ongoing projects: Using natural history collections, how has insect body size changed over time?  How important is changing climate for shaping variation in insect body size?

5. Host-parasite evolutionary ecology

Parasites of economically important resources destabilize global food security, and parasitic diseases of humans cause huge losses in global health and productivity.  My past work has investigated the illusive relationship between host and parasite fitness, and has asked whether escape from coevolved parasites contributes to rapid spread of an invasive mosquito.  In the future I plan to revisit the host-parasite work, under the umbrella of rapid adaptation to changing environment.



Biol411 Insect Ecology
Biol448 Directed studies in adaptation to changing environments
Biol409 Field Course - in 2019 we will be teaching this course in the Canadian Arctic. Details coming soon!

Team Members

Alice Zhou - Work Learn student. Alice is a 2nd year UBC science student with a passion for arthropods and has already earned the (un)lucky nickname of 'flowcam whisperer'.  

Chris Ernst - Hakai Postdoctoral Fellow.  Chris is a community ecologist/entomologist and has a million projects on the go - including cataloguing ALL the bugs on the BC coast.  Welcome Chris!

You!! - I am recruiting up to two MSc or PhD students to start September 2019. I am particularly keen to mentor/train students who are fascinated with freshwater aquatic plankton & insects, and who are interested in bridging community ecology with evolutionary ecology.  All students will need to have at least some fellowship/scholarship support.   Please email me if you'd like to explore grad school options with me.  See BLOG for more details.

Selected Publications

Tseng, M. and S. Soleimani Pari. 2018. Body size explains interspecific variation in latitude-size relationships in geographically widespread beetle species.  Ecological Entomology.  DOI: 10.1111/een.12684 (This is Sina's 2017 Directed Studies project). 

Tseng, M., K. M. Kaur*, S. Soleimani Pari*, K. Sarai, D. Chan, C.H. Yao, P. Porto, A. Toor, H.S. Toor, and K. Fograscher. 2018. Decreases in beetle body size linked to climate change and warming temperatures. Journal of Animal Ecology.  DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12789 *co-second author, (all co-authors were UBC undergrads from Biol411).

Tseng M. 2017. The effect of parasitism and interpopulation hybridization on Aedes albopictus fitness. Journal of Medical Entomology. 54(5):1236-1242

Tseng M., and M. I. O’Connor. 2015. Predators modify the evolutionary response of prey to temperature change. Biology Letters. 11: 20150798

Community Works

Michelle is a science consultant and photographer for the award-winning kids nature tv show Scout and the Gumboot Kids (weekday mornings and online on CBC).

The Tseng lab has helped elementary school classrooms integrate live insects and aquatic organisms into the class curriculum. We've worked with ladybugs, frogs, snails,  zooplankton, and praying mantises.  Not sure what will be next! Feel free to email if you need help thinking about the logistics of rearing live critters in your classroom.