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Biological Sciences

Research project: The genomics of parallel adaptation to temperature-divergent niches

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How a population diverges and forms new species is a key question in evolutionary biology. In this project we are studying adaptation to high altitude in Canary Island plants to understand the genetic and genomic changes that underlie ecological speciation.

With climate change likely to lead to major changes in the world’s biota and to impact on our ability to grow crops, it is pertinent to understand how plants adapt to different ecological regimes, in particular those differing in temperature. This will help us to predict how species will be affected by climate change and identify genes and genetic pathways that could be engineered to maintain yields with increasing temperatures.

A thorough investigation of groups of species which have adapted in parallel to differences in altitude would shed light on the genes and pathways that are involved in adaptation to temperature.

This project focuses on the genus Echium, one of the most enigmatic members of the Canary Islands flora. This genus is an ideal model for such a study since recent speciation in the genus has been governed in part by altitudinal (and thus temperature) shifts.

The project will characterize phylogenetic relationships of all members of the Canary Island Echiums to identify altitudinally differentiated sister taxa. Divergence in gene expression between these taxon pairs will be characterised, and loci exhibiting a signature of divergent selection will be identified. By comparing two different speciation events into high altitude we can address the question: are parallel genetic changes responsible for evolutionary changes underlying temperature adaptation?

Supervisor: Mark Chapman (supervisor) & Mark Carine (supervisor; Natural History Museum)
Funding dates: Oct 2016 to April 2020

E. hierrense on El Hierro, Canary Islands
E. hierrense on El Hierro, Canary Islands
Echium wildpretii subsp. wildpretii (Teide National Park, Tenerife)
Echium wildpretii subsp. wildpretii (Teide National Park, Tenerife)

Related research groups

Environmental Biosciences

Key Publication

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