Life Update: Starting PhD in Population Biology at UC Davis in Fall 2017

After a long respite on this blog due to limited access to a computer while my laptop being fixed, I’m happy to make the belayed announcement that I’ll be joining the Population Biology graduate group as a first-year PhD student at UC Davis in Fall 2017!

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My primary advisor will be Jennifer Gremer, a new plant ecologist in the Evolution and Ecology department. I’ve been working closely with her during my time as a Research Assistant in Johanna Schmitt’s lab, the position I currently hold, because she is co-leading a project that takes up the majority of my responsibilities as a tech.

I’m even thinking about doing some of my own PhD research on the project I’ve been working on for the past year – we are studying life history variation and local adaptation in the native California wildflower Streptanthus tortuosus in the context of its potential ability to adapt to climate change.

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Streptanthus tortuosus plant in the screenhouse

 

S. tortuosus is an ideal study organism for these questions because it displays a wide range of morphologies and adaptations across its range, which encompasses most of California and elevations from about 500-12,000 feet. It’s also classified as a biennial or perennial in many field guides, but we’ve seen it display an annual life history as well. In fact, we think we’ve found a trend in life history: increasing perenniality with increasing elevation. It also responds differently to vernalization treatments, flowers at different times, and grows at different rates in a common garden, providing some evidence for genetic differences in these traits.

I am especially interested in finding out whether this species is locally adapted to snowmelt timing on mountainsides. I have tentative plans to explore this question further this summer at Lassen Volcanic National Park, where I have observed plants displaying very different phenologies dependent on snowmelt timing across very short physical distances. These plants are bad at selfing, which means they rely on outcrossing by pollinators to reproduce, so I also want to study the landscape genetics of the species at Lassen – are there different “genetic cohorts” reproducing with each other every year because they consistently have open flowers at the same time as a consequence of when they emerge from the snow?

Hopefully, I can equip myself with the conceptual, statistical, and methodological tools to begin answering these questions during my first year of classwork as a PhD student. Whether or not this ends up being my dissertation project, I’m learning a lot about plants, genetics, and conducting long-term independent research in the meantime!


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