We study the ecology, evolution and genetics of local adaptation in natural plant populations.
As sessile organisms, terrestrial plants are exposed to all extremes of local conditions throughout all stages of their life-history, often resulting in episodes of strong selection. This sessile nature also makes them particularly amenable to reciprocal transplant and common garden experiments – the basic tools for assessing local adaptation. Thus it is not surprising that the first studies of natural variation in adaptive traits began with plants (over 250 years ago!). Since then hundreds of studies have found evidence for local adaptation in plants.
What is missing is the knowledge of the traits and genes that confer adaptation to specific environments. An understanding of the traits involved in adaptation to particular stresses (e.g. drought) is needed for both applied (crop breeding, conservation, invasive species) and theoretical questions in ecology and evolution. In addition, once traits are identified, genetic data are needed to answer whether adaptations are due to:
1. Many genetic changes or only a few?
2. New mutations or older alleles that persist at some frequency throughout the species range and history?
Understanding the ecology and genetics of local adaptation is fundamental to our understanding of evolution and biodiversity.
Ecology —- Evolution —- Genetics