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Interest Areas:

Climatic adaptation in widely distributed tree species, transcriptional responses to abiotic stress, genotype-phenotype association studies, conservation genetics, genome-enabled breeding, adaptation of tree populations to climate change, landscape genomics.

B.Sc., University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (Biology), 2001
Ph.D., University of British Columbia (Forestry), 2009


Forestry/Fisheries and Wildlife 4984 – Genetics of natural and managed populations
Forestry 2414 – Field experience in forest resources (Team taught)

Research Interests:

Forest tree populations are exquisitely adapted to their local environments at present, but anthropogenic climate change is substantially altering these adaptive landscapes, particularly in temperate and boreal regions. These effects are being exacerbated by adverse consequences of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on the expression of adaptive traits. In the absence of adaptation to rapid changes in climatic and CO2 regimes, tree populations will be forced to either migrate or be extirpated. As it is unlikely that migration rates will be sufficient to realize the range shifts predicted by climate-based species distribution models, the importance of adaptive evolution cannot be underestimated. In order to predict the potential for adaptation in the context of climate change, we must first have an understanding of the genomic underpinnings of the relevant traits.
The overarching goal of my research is to elucidate the genetic determinants of complex adaptive traits using genotype-phenotype associations studies and landscape genomics. To do this we employ tools such as gene expression microarrays to identify candidate genes, high-throughput sanger and ‘next gen’ sequencing to identify segregating variation (e.g., single nucleotide polymorphisms, indels, etc), and high-throughput genotyping of large mapping populations to facilitate statistical inference. A better understanding of the genomic underpinnings of complex adaptive traits facilitates predictions of carbon sequestration in future forests, enhances the adaptive potential of local populations through conservation of ecologically-relevant genetic variation, and facilitates sustainable production of wood biomass through genome-enabled breeding. More generally, these studies begin to provide answers to long-standing questions in evolutionary ecology about the genetic architecture of adaptation.

Current Funding:

Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science

“Exploiting natural genetic variation to improve wood properties and biomass yield in poplar”
National Science Foundation

Plant Genome Research Program”CAREER: Integrating whole-genome association mapping and landscape genomics to understand climatic adaptation in Populus”


  1. Holliday JA, Suren H, Aitken SN. (2011) Divergent selection and heterogeneous migration rates across the range of Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (In press).
  2. Dauwe R, Holliday JA, Aitken SN, Mansfield S. Metabolic dynamics during autumn cold acclimation within and among phenotypically divergent populations of Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). In Review
  3. Holliday JA, Wang TL, Aitken SN.  Phenotype forecasting of climate-related traits in Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). In Review
  4. Holliday JA, Yuen M, Ritland K, Aitken SN (2010) Postglacial history of a widespread conifer produces inverse clines in selective neutrality tests. Molecular Ecology. 19: 3857-3864.
  5. Featured in a news and views article Holliday JA, Ritland K, Aitken SN. (2010) Widespread, ecologically relevant genetic markers developed from association mapping of climate-related traits in Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). New Phytologist. 188: 501-514.
  6. Holliday, JA. (2009) Genomics of cold hardiness in forest trees. In Plant  Cold Hardiness: From the Laboratory to the Field. Tanino, K. and Gusta L., eds.  CABI. Oxfordshire.
  7. Holliday JA, Ralph SG, White R, Bohlmann J, Aitken SN. (2008) Global  monitoring of autumn gene expression within and among phenotypically divergent  populations of Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). New Phytologist. 178(1):  103-22.
  8. Aitken SN, Yeaman S, Holliday JA, Wang T, Curtis-McLane S. (2008)  Adaptation, migration or extirpation: Climate change outcomes for tree  populations. Evolutionary Applications. 1(1): 95-111.