The ecology and evolution of floral form and function in Clarkia unguiculata.
NCEAS Data Science Fellow
The majority of flowering plant species rely on the services of pollinators to reproduce. Plant-pollinator relationships are critical for the maintenance of terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystem function. Additionally, the production of >75% of the human food supply depends on the strength and reliability of pollination services. Therefore, floral traits that influence pollinator attraction are of particular importance to the continued survival of wild and agricultural species, and of particular interest to ecologists and evolutionary biologists. An important goal of biology today is to determine the traits that influence the pollinator-plant relationship and successful plant reproduction in general. Wild plants must attract pollinators and survive a wide range of climatic conditions if they are, respectively, to reproduce and to persist into the future. Global climate change is changing the selective pressures that wild populations encounter and having profound effects on the ability of wild plant species to survive in their current habitats. Relatively little is known about how the attributes and functions of the species that persist will evolve as they adapt to future climate conditions.
My research has focused on identifying functional traits in Clarkia unguiculata (Onagraceae), that influence pollinator attraction and reproduction, and, in particular, the attributes that facilitate reproduction in stressful abiotic environments. In addition, I have discovered and quantified geographic variation in several floral traits that appear to have evolved in response to pollinator preferences, local abiotic conditions, or both. This work contributes to our understanding of the effects of current and future environmental conditions on physical and genetic attributes of a wild California native plant species.