For my Master's thesis I assessed gene flow of three species of Populus and their hybrids throughout California and Nevada using high-throughput SNP assays and leaf morphology. This system was previously described as having a first-generation (F1) hybrid block, which is uncommon within the genus. Reevaluation with novel molecular techniques to understand the ecological and genetic effects on the two native Populus species (P. fremontii and P. trichocarpa) and an European exotic (P. nigra) planted as an ornamental throughout the region. From my results, I suggested that there was no evidence of a F1 block, as advanced-generation hybrids were found throughout the sampled sites. Additionally, hybridization with the exotic species was found in sites not previously described, suggesting that the exotic is being planted more in urban developments and the invasiveness of the exotic and its hybrids must be assessed in order to maintain native biodiversity.
My dissertation research focuses on the relationship between plant traits and environments throughout South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region (CFR). I assess how variations in phenotype will determine adaptability to changing climates.
The CFR is the smallest of six flora kingdoms and is a biodiversity hotspot. It accounts for less than five percent of the total land area, but contains 40% of all southern African plant lineages. Of these 69% are endemic.
I focus on the highly diverse plant genus Pelargonium, with approximately 160 species and 89% of these are endemic to the CFR. With the use of reciprocal transplant gardens, greenhouse experiments, and herbarium records I can test for variation in fitness traits and the genetic basis of local adaptations to different climatic regimes.
The combination of exceptional species diversity and endemicity magnifies threats of extinction from climate change within this region. How species in such a diverse landscape will respond to environmental change is poorly understood. I will use my research findings to identify adaptation strategies that are imperative to the preservation of the unique species richness found in South Africa.