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Estimating the adaptive capacity of plant species with transcriptome and phenotypic traits

Sam’s research will be exploring how Australian plants tolerate temperature stress.

Species distribution models use environmental layers and occurrence records to predict an area of suitable habitat for a species. These models can be extrapolated to predict species distributions under future climate conditions, to inform conservation planning. However, species may already be capable of being successful in a wider range of extreme climates due to existing variation at both the genomic and phenotypic level. The current understanding of how plants tolerate temperature stress make them an excellent system for developing methods to predict adaptive capacity for conservation planning.

This project aims to explore the possibility of using genomic and trait data to explain the different climates plants are successful in.

We will start with a targeted approach to compare the response to temperature stress of related plant species that occupy different climates. We will quantify the response of plants to temperature stress by sequencing the transcriptome. Using representative loci to quantify the magnitude of this stress response in combination with trait data (e.g. leaf size and growth form) we aim to build a platform that can predict if species are at or near their thermal limits using a comparative approach. Identifying the species most at risk due to a low capacity to adapt is intended to help proactive conservation management.

Project Lead: Dr Sam Andrew