Molecular Ecology Research
Arboretum research in plant population genetics seeks to understand the population genetic structure of plant species, the genetic bases of ecological traits, the structure and biological implications of hybrid zones, and the origins of plant species. Two overarching questions drive this research:
What is the pattern of neutral gene flow within and between species, and how is gene flow affected by different landscape patterns, chromosome arrangements, and life histories?
How does natural selection affect patterns of gene flow in different areas of the plant genome?
These basic questions have practical implications. Ongoing research on hybridization and gene flow in oaks, for example, allows us to classify forest stands more accurately and assess the effects of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity of the Chicago region. Research into gene flow in wetland species directly addresses the question of how ecologists should collect seeds to restore viable populations.
Understanding these patterns is essential to modeling plant population viability and conserving rare plants, predicting the effects of species and genotype introductions in ecological restoration, identifying plant species and classifying plant community types, and making informed decisions about what constitutes a valid plant species. Consequently, the basic and applied research in this area informs management decisions at the Arboretum and beyond.