A major focus of our lab is identifying how genetic and phenotypic variation that has evolved among plant populations adapts plants to their local climates and habitats. Understanding how these adaptations to climate variation across space have evolved will help us understand mechanisms by which plants can evolve to cope with a changing climate over time and thus know what subsets of natural variation are most important to conservation efforts. We are studying the genetics of local adaptation in two monkeyflower species, Mimulus guttatus and Mimulus laciniatus.
We also have ongoing projects related to the genetics of natural variation in a specific trait, photoperiodic flowering in Mimulus guttatus. Populations of this species will only flower at times of year when days are sufficiently long, but the threshold day length varies with elevation such that populations at high elevation (i.e., areas with later starting springs) require longer day lengths than populations at low elevation. We have identified several regions of the genome involved in divergence in this trait between high and low elevation populations, and following large field studies with our collaborators this and in previous summers, we will be exploring how these genomic regions help to adapt populations to their local environments through their impacts on flowering, additional phenotypes, and overall plant fitness in native seasonal habitats.
We are also pursuing projects to examine how Mimulus guttatus populations have adapted to unique soil conditions (copper mine tailings and calcium-poor serpentine soils). This coming term we will be advancing transgenic experiments to test the roles that specific genes might play in helping populations that inhabit these soils thrive there as well as testing gene expression differences among populations.
On another front, we are pursuing studies how populations of Mimulus laciniatus differ in how the environment experienced by parental plants influences offspring phenotypes and why this variation could be adaptive.
The undergraduate researchers will grow, care for, and cross monkeyflowers as part of our efforts to scoring of germination, flowering, leaf shape, and other traits of plants under controlled conditions or in the greenhouse. They will collect tissue for DNA or RNA extraction and may also be involved with some combination of DNA isolation and genotyping. The student is encouraged to join weekly Blackman lab group meetings as well.
Students with strong interests in plant-environment interaction, genetics, evolution, and ecology will find the experience most rewarding. Attention to detail and good record keeping skills are essential. The student should be comfortable and enthusiastic about working in greenhouse and growth chamber conditions for extended periods, and they will be expected to follow guidelines for safely doing so.