My lab studies the evolutionary physiology of plants. Physiologists have uncovered numerous tradeoffs that organisms must confront in order to survive and reproduce, and such fitness tradeoffs are the theoretical foundation for many models of adaptive evolution. Despite this seemingly natural integration between disciplines, an evo-phys synthesis has largely eluded us. Plants systems are especially useful because i) there is a rich body of physical and chemical theory that explains how plants work and ii) field experiments that measure the relationship between physiological variation and fitness are tractable.
We know that microbes, including many pathogens, are transported long distances through aerosols. However, we know much less about how host traits affect colonization and development of the host microbiome. This is important because many phenotypes that we think of adaptations to the abiotic environment, may in fact play a more important role in deterring pathogenic microbes and/or recruiting beneficial microbes. Plants are ideal for studying these basic questions about environmental microbiomes because of their experimental tractability. However, a major limitation is that we lack controlled experimental methods to test how variation in host traits affect deposition of aerosols and subsequent colonization by microbes. The overall goal of my ICEMHH pilot project is to develop an experimental system to test how aerosols and leaf anatomy shape the plant microbiome.
Integrative Center for Environmental Microbiomes and Human Health