ecological genetics

Julie R. Etterson

Distinguished McKnight  University Professor

Director, Institute on the Environment -Duluth

Department of Biology

153B Swenson Science Building

University of Minnesota Duluth    218-726-8110

PhD 2000,  EEB, U of MN, CV

My lab group studies evolution in native plant populations in response to anthropogenic factors, such as climate change and habitat restoration using the toolkit of ecological genetics.  One of the most powerful methods for understanding contemporary evolution is the "resurrection approach" where ancestral populations are revived (e.g. using old seed) and grown side-by-side with descendant populations for direct comparison of changes that have occurred over time.  Although such antecedent-successor comparisons are powerful, the ancestral seed necessary to do the experiments is rarely available.  To solve this problem, myself and my colleagues recently established a new research seed bank, Project Baseline, that will provide old seed for resurrection ecology research for the next 50 years.  At present, I am applying the resurrection approach to understand evolutionary change in restoration materials due to sampling and unconscious selection during the process of commercial seed increase and how evolutionary changes in plant material affects restoration success.  I have applied other ecological genetic tools to predict and test the rates of evolution in response to climate change.  Specifically, I applied artificial selection in benign and drought conditions to test rates of evolution of flowering time.  This research was conducted on both diploid and hexaploid populations drawn from the same natural mixed ploidy population to also test the advantages of polyploidy in the context of a rapidly changing environment.  I have also used quantitative genetic approaches to predict whether or not the rate of evolution is rapid enough to keep pace with climate change.  Finally, my lab group tests management practices that are designed to ameliorate negative impacts of rapid environmental change, such as assisted migration and genetic augmentation.