Dr. McKain awarded NSF Rules of Life grant

Dr. McKain has been awarded an NSF Rules of Life grant entitled “RoL: RUI: Collaborative Research: Understanding the Ecological and Genomic Bases of Local Adaptation in an Obligate Pollination Mutualism”, led by colleagues at Willamette University with collaborators at California State University—Northridge, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and the US Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center. This four year project will investigate patterns of genetic and physiological variation in Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia and Yucca jaegeriana) as they have adapted to the arid environment and high temperatures of the Mojave Desert. One of the goals of this project is to identify contributions of environmental stress and interactions with yucca moths—obligate pollinators of Joshua trees—to assess how abiotic and biotic factors have played a role in the evolution of these iconic desert species. This work will not only uncover novel aspects of the interplay between environment and interspecies interactions but will identify populations of Joshua trees that are most likely to be successful with projected climate change. Dr. McKain and colleagues will help in protecting the species by informing conservation biologists of these populations, which will serve as genetic reservoirs for breeding programs. The McKain lab will be sequencing the genome of Joshua tree to provide the genetic background for the study. They will also investigate the relative impact an ancient polyploid event has had on the adaptation of this species to the driest North American desert.