Evolutionary genetics and ecology of water use efficiency ([delta]¹³C) in Ipomopsis agregata and Arabidopsis thaliana
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My dissertation research investigates the genetic architecture and evolutionary significance of physiological variation in two wildflower species, Ipomopsis aggregata and Arabidopsis thaliana. In particular, my work focuses on water use efficiency (WUE), a critical physiological trait that dictates plant growth and performance in resource-limited environments. I used a combination of quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping, field selection experiments, and classic quantitative genetics to investigate 1) the genetic architecture of water use efficiency and flowering time, 2) patterns of natural selection on water use efficiency, flowering time, and other ecological traits in I. aggregata, and 3) additive genetic variation, genetic correlations, and selection on water use efficiency, flowering time, and plasticity to drought in Arabidopsis thaliana. Using an Ipomopsis aggregata genetic mapping population, I identified four QTL underlying WUE, three QTL-QTL epistatic interactions, and evidence for a possible QTL x cytoplasmic interaction affecting WUE. I found a similar genetic architecture underlying flowering time, with four main effect QTLs that all adjacently localized to the same linkage groups as WUE, and three QTL-QTL epistatic interactions, which occur between the same chromosome pairs as the WUE interactions. The combined main and interactive effects explain 35% and 40% of the phenotypic variation in WUE and flowering time, respectively. The adjacent localization suggests a possible role for the evolution of co-inheritance or, if the true QTL positions actually overlap, a possible role for pleiotropy underlying the phenotypic correlation between WUE and flowering time. Additionally, these results suggest epistasis is a significant factor affecting phenotypic variation in nature. In a reciprocal transplant and water addition experiment, I demonstrated variable natural selection on WUE, flowering time, and nectar production in I. aggregata across elevation/habitat and differential water availability. At low elevation in the water addition treatment, natural selection favors early flowering and greater nectar sugar concentration, while dry conditions favor high WUE and early flowering time. At high elevation, where the growing season is shorter and drier, selection favors early flowering regardless of water addition. These results suggest natural selection on ecophysiological and floral traits varies with resource availability (e.g. water availability and pollinator visitation). Using data from a glasshouse experiment involving a global panel of accessions of Arabidopsis thaliana, I demonstrated strong positive genetic correlation between WUE and flowering time, as well as selection for low WUE and early flowering under experimental season-ending drought. Finally, I found significant genetic variation in plasticity as well as selection favoring greater WUE plasticity under drought, indicating plasticity to drought is adaptive in A. thaliana.