The Ecology & Evolution of Plant Reproduction

Immobility and modular growth have important implications for the ecological interactions (e.g., pollination, competition) that affect life-time fitness in plants. We study how these interactions drive the evolution of reproductive systems in plants. Recent projects include studies of how the resource environment influences the evolution of males, and how clonality influences mating patterns and overall plant fitness. Our projects typically include some combination of field studies, manipulative experiments, genetic analysis, and theory to examine the evolution of reproductive strategies in plants.

Evolution and ecology of combined vs. separate sexes

Separate sexes have evolved from hermaphroditism up to 5000 times in the flowering plants alone. The transition from from hermaphroditism to separate sexes represents a major change in the way organisms reproduce; individuals give up the ability to be a maternal and paternal parent to their offspring and specialize as a female or a male. Our recent research has focused on how and why males evolve, testing core elements of sex-allocation theory.

Evolution and ecology of clonal reproduction

Clonal plants are widespread and often ecologically dominant but studies of the ecological costs and benefits of clonality lag far behind that of other reproductive modes. Using modeling and field experiments, we are investigating the consequences of clonality for mating and reproductive fitness. In particular, we are interested in evaluating whether clonality really does reduce mating success, as is generally thought, or whether it can enhance mating via the subdivision of reproductive effort among ramets.

Ecology of wind and animal pollination

Mating in plants involves intermediaries that transfer pollen to receptive stigmas. Regardless of whether these intermediaries are biotic (pollinators) or abiotic, they generally transfer pollen among near neighbours over short distances. Using field experiments we are investigating patterns of pollen dispersal in wind- and animal pollinated plants and integrating this information with spatial data to investigate topics such as spatial patterns of hybrid formation in invasive species and how patch structure influences the fitness of parents and offspring.