The genetic basis of climate adaptation in plants

Friday 27 October, 2017
Mathews Theatre C, UNSW Kensington campus

Local adaptation is common in widespread conifer species and current reforestation policy reflects this through local seed sourcing and breeding programs. However, as the climate changes local tree populations may become mismatched to their local environments. The goal of this research is to identify the genes responsible for climatic adaptation in western Canada’s two most economically important conifers, lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and interior spruce (Picea glauca, P. engelmannnii, and their hybrids). To do this we conducted a population genomics study of local adaptation for both these species across similar climatic gradients. Using a sequence capture approach that targeted the exome, we used environment allele associations, and phenotype allele associations to identify candidate regions of the genome important for temperature adaptation. Our comparative analysis of these regions between the two species revealed that adaptation to temperature has a polygenic signature of convergence at the genomic level. This is despite the fact that these species have been diverged for more than 140 million years. This suggests that adaptation to climate is somewhat genetically constrained, with key genes, particularly transcription factors, playing non-redundant roles. These results will be important for designing reforestation policies that consider future climates, and for understanding the genetic capacity of natural populations to adapt to new climatic conditions.


Kay Hodgins is a recently appointed lecturer at Monash University. She is recognized for her work in the field of ecological genomics, having made contributions regarding the molecular basis of adaptation in both foundation and invasive plant species. In addition to her fundamental discoveries, her work has important applications, for example in understanding the evolution of herbicide resistance in weedy plants and the adaptive evolutionary responses of trees to climate change. She conducted her PhD at the University of Toronto with Spencer Barrett, where she studied the evolution of plant sexual polymorphisms, and continued as a post doc at the University of British Colombia where she studied the genetics of adaptation in invasive and foundation species with Loren Rieseberg and Sally Aitken.