In November 2015, I joined the labs of Dr. Ruth Hufbauer and Dr. John McKay at Colorado State University as an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in Biology to work on a shiny new project. I couldn’t be more excited about it, y’all.
Biological invasions of non-native plant species present compelling motivation to understand how human-induced changes in the environment and species distributions influence ecological and evolutionary processes. Their documented geographic spread across time makes them ideal for study using historic collections, allowing better insight into evolutionary change over short time scales. Applying advanced genomic approaches to historic samples is key to understanding the processes that allow plants to rapidly establish and adapt to new environments. Theory predicts that dramatic ecological and evolutionary changes affect invasive species soon upon arrival in a new habitat. Yet current research relies on sampling contemporary populations, and therefore reveals little about the initial stages of invasion. The fellowship research is a study of the history of an invasive weed by exploiting an untapped historical resource to observe “snapshots” of the initial stages of invasion and the genetic changes that occur as a plant species spreads. It involves sampling genetic material from dried plant specimens collected throughout the course of an invasion, from herbarium collections across North America, including the New York Botanical Garden, the University of Kansas, the California Academy of Sciences, the University of British Columbia, Colorado State University, and others. I will use techniques for ancient DNA originally developed to study long extinct organisms such as mammoths and Neanderthals to study evolution over the course of the 100 year invasion of North America by crossflower (Chorispora tenella, Brassicaceae), a widespread and governmentally listed noxious invasive weed.