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Default 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.