I am investigating root trait evolution across the genus Helianthus (sunflowers) in order to make inferences about the adaptive value of root trait variation. As Helianthus is widespread across North America and found in many diverse habitats, wild sunflowers serve as a great model system for testing adaptive questions. This work has entailed a number of common garden experiments with ~30 Helianthus species to identify genetic differentiation for root anatomical, morphological, and physiological traits. In addition, I'm investigating species differences in root chemical exudation through HPLC-MS and GC-MS profiling of root exudates in a subset of the species. This information, in conjunction with soil fertility and climate characteristics from the "home" habitat of each of these species, will allow interpretation of the adaptive value of root trait variation across the genus. It is hoped that this work, in conjunction with the Donovan lab's work on aboveground trait evolution, will therefore provide a better knowledge of whole-plant ecological strategies across environments.
Areas of Research:
Biochemistry and Physiology, Evolutionary Biology, Ecology