WisAsp Garden

Identifying the genetic underpinnings of insect community composition in aspen (Populus tremuloides) at WisAsp

Community genetics aims to understand the effects of intraspecific genetic variation on community composition and diversity, thereby connecting community ecology with evolutionary biology. Within this field, studies have shown that different plant genotypes harbor different communities of associated organisms, such as insects. In fact, communities of insects have been demonstrated to be a heritable trait of host plants. Until now, this research has focused on the genotypic level, and thus the plant genes and gene networks that influence insect community composition have not been identified. I use genome wide association mapping (a technique that finds statistical associations between genetic markers and phenotypic traits) with an aspen (Populus tremuloides) population, WisAsp, to identify the genes underlying ecologically important traits (e.g., chemical defense; phenology) that influence insect abundance and diversity. With this approach, I can determine the genetic mechanisms that link plant hosts to their insect herbivores in an ecologically realistic context. This research will provide fundamental insights into tree-insect interactions and shed light on potential mechanisms of plant-insect evolution and community evolution. In addition, this proposed project will help identify the genetic underpinnings of trophic interactions, insect biodiversity, and plant susceptibility to insect attack.

Click here for a guide to common insects found at WisAsp!