Is environmental adaptation facilitated by epigenetic phenotypic variation?

Project: PhD

Project Details


Increasing occurrences of extreme weather due the climate change in the form of extreme droughts, more frequent floods, higher temperatures in winter are just some of the threats plant species face. Populations can adapt however the speed of this adaptation may not be enough. Evolutionary adaptation is relatively slow, however phenotypic plasticity has been suggested to provide a more rapid and thus more important role. Understanding this role is important to fully comprehend how population dynamics and persistence fare under environmental stress. Recent studies have suggested that epigenetics can contribute an piece to the puzzle to the adaptational responses to climate change. However, population models rarely include plastic and epigenetic processes, potentially excluding a major driver in population resilience leading to incorrect predictions of responses to climate change. We aim to fill this knowledge gap by using an combined approach consisting of genetic and modelling, using both field, lab and greenhouse studies. We aim to use long term data on population responses and genetic and epigenetic variation of natural populations of Arabidopsis lyrata ssp. petraea. These populations have been studied extensively between 2005- and 2009, where major contributions of plasticity have already been found to play a role in adaptation to temperature and other environmental variables. Moreover, recently epigenetics has been proposed as a regulator of these responses in this species. First we will assess the genetic and epigenetic variation present in these populations and relate these to difference in environmental conditions. Furthermore, we will determine if phenotypic plasticity is related to changes in the epigenome combining the information obtained in the natural population with experiments conducted in the greenhouse. Here we will expose clonal offshoots of the plants to different types of stresses which are predicted to occur more often due to climate change. These clonal offshoots will allow us to assess plasticity independently of genetic variation, but possibly driven by changes in gene expression and epigenetic variation. Using all the information obtained using the experiments described above we will create integral project models. Using these models we will determine the relevance of phenotypic plasticity and the role of epigenetics in population level responses to climate change. This will results in a better understanding and prediction of long-term resilience of plant populations to rapid environmental change.
Effective start/end date15/11/21 → …


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