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DANIEL J. TOEWS
RESEARCH

PLANT ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION

The heritable gene pool of a given species represents its' evolutionary potential and ability to adapt to a rapidly changing world. For plants, however, limited dispersal abilities of seeds and pollen coupled with the evolution of locally adapted genotypes may hinder the ability for plants to adapt and/or track rapid environmental and ecological change.

California vernal pools are distributed across complex geomorphic, edaphic and climatic conditions throughout the state, resulting in many locally endemic taxa and unique plant community assemblages. Unfortunately, most of this once dominant ecosystem in California has been lost by habitat conversion to to agriculture and urban development. Today, vernal pools are protected wetlands, however, we know virtually nothing about the ecology or patterns of adaptation among vernal pool plant species and their communities.  

I use a combination of field and greenhouse experiments where I transplant vernal pool plant species across different vernal pools to test the effect of differing habitat characteristics on plant growth and performance. Based on those performance and fitness measures we can make some assumptions about local adaptation to specific soil and/or community types. Ultimately, this research will provide insight into eco-evolutionary dynamics of vernal pool plant species that are relevant when considering conservation and restoration strategies to these threatened systems.

Local adaptation in meadowfoam?
Greenhouse experiment
More coming soon!
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Field experiment -aka "silly tooth pick experiment"

In this  experiment, we collected seeds from meadowfoam plants naturally occurring in vernal pools across a large intact and heterogeneous vernal pool landscape. A couple thousand of these seeds were glued to a couple thousand toothpicks and then reciprocally planted across several vernal pools occurring on common but differing soil types. Here, we test for local adaptation to soil type and individual pool characteristics (depth, slope, hydrology, etc). 

The experiment was conducted across 2 consecutive years where individual plants were censused and floristic traits indicative of plant fitness were measured (number of flowers, seed count, etc) -aka A LOT of time kneeling down on Coyote thistle. While the experiment has concluding, statistical analyses are ongoing and will shed light on interesting population dynamics and ecology of an endemic vernal pool plant. Stay tuned!