Identifying the mechanisms contributing to the formation of new species is essential for understanding the origins of biological diversity. Speciation, the biological process of species formation, occurs when barriers to reproduction evolve between groups. Adaptation to different environments via natural selection is a pervasive feature of speciation, yet the underlying genetic changes are poorly understood. This project will investigate the targets of natural selection that drive the preliminary stages of speciation between distinct populations of the wildflower Mimulus aurantiacus. Despite adaptive differences associated with their unique habitats and pollinators, few additional reproductive barriers have evolved, suggesting that these populations are at an early stage of speciation. By integrating genomic information with experiments estimating the strength of natural selection, this project will provide unprecedented characterization of the roles that ecology and natural selection play at the beginning of the speciation process.
Mimulus has become a model genus for the study of plant evolutionary ecology, genomics, and speciation. Consequently, over the past few years, the genomic resources available in the genus have exploded, the user community has grown, and the needs for genomic information have become more sophisticated. A major goal of this project includes development of a key online resource for exploration, archiving, and sharing of genomic data on natural variation across Mimulus. These efforts will establish the web infrastructure necessary for strengthening connections and collaborations worldwide. In addition, this project will provide integral educational and research opportunities for students from underrepresented groups, further widening its impact to society.