Ecological and evolutionary genomics of Scabiosa columbaria
In this project, we focus on the interaction between environmental stress and ´genetic stress´, by studying phenotypic adaptive responses to environmental stress and inbreeding depression. Gene expression technologies and physiological experiments are used to unravel the complex interplay of environmental and genetic factors on plant responses to changes in their environment. In most cases, plants respond to stress by mechanisms of tolerance, resistance and avoidance, which can be clearly defined by metabolic pathways. However, some responses to environmental changes cannot be explained by Mendelian genetics. Latest findings in the field of epigenetics, such as epigenetic inheritance, lead to believe that plants may have a flexible short-term strategy of the response to stress. To explore possible epigenetic mechanisms in plant responses to stress in combination with inbreeding, we exposed inbred and outbred plants to low and high levels of stress and screened for variation in methylation. In addition, we performed methylation manipulation experiments in the greenhouse. This research showed that epigenetic processes can be affected by inbreeding and suggests that inbreeding depression has an epigenetic component.
Plant responses to abiotic stress at range margins: mechanisms and limits to adaptation
Knowledge about the ecological and genetic processes governing plant adaptation is crucial for an understanding of plant distributions and responses to environmental change. Marginal populations are ideal study systems for this as they may provide vital information regarding the processes that determine species distributions and also harbour local adaptations that could be fundamental to the performance of the species under future climatic conditions. In this project, we focus on the northern rock-cress (Arabidopsis lyrata spp. petraea), a close relative of the model plant species, Arabidopsis thaliana, but with sufficiently high genetic similarity between the two to allow the use of genomic and postgenomic resources that would not be available for most other plants. This makes this species an ideal model system for these evolutionary studies. This project is part of a NERC funded postgenomics consortium of the University of Leeds and the University of Sheffield (United Kingdom).
Effects of air pollution on species diversity in calcareous grasslands
In collaboration with York University (United Kingdom) and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology Lancaster (United Kingdom), we investigate the relationship between atmospheric nitrogen deposition, management and soil chemistry on species composition in calcareous grasslands, and explore the mechanisms causing species change.