This project relies on extensive knowledge of the basic biology of Arabidopsis to understand how plants adapt to climate. Integrated analyses of the genetics of developmental timing, architectural allocation, photosynthetic water use efficiency, growth, and reproductive yield will be compared among plants raised under conditions that mimic a climate gradient associated with altitude in the native range of the species. Because the exact locations of natural populations are known, adaptations of plants raised in the laboratory can be compared directly with native environmental conditions, where temperature and moisture govern plant survival and seed yield. Growth curve analysis will be used to account for plant yields (fitness), while also testing the major intrinsic and extrinsic factors influencing plant growth and yield. Growth curve analyses developed by this project can be easily adapted to other systems.
Understanding the biological underpinnings of plant adaptation to climate is critically important for breeding crops and understanding natural diversity. This basic research will have broad impacts; the same genes that control development and physiology in Arabidopsis function in all plants. This research will contribute to education at multiple levels as well as to recruitment to careers in science. The project includes collaboration with two non-profits to provide a summer science camp for primarily African-American middle school students from underserved schools in the area.