Jane Remfert has successfully completed the necessary steps to proceed to Doctoral Candidate by completing her written and oral defense and submitting her research proposal. Thank you to Drs. Eckert, Gough, Johnson, and Keyghobadi for their insightful comments and expertise in helping to shape a dynamic and exciting research project.
Whether they are used to describe fitness, genome architecture or the spatial distribution of environmental variables, the concept of a landscape has figured prominently in our collective reasoning. The tradition of landscapes in evolutionary biology is one of fitness mapped onto axes defined by phenotypes or molecular sequence states. The characteristics of these landscapes depend on natural selection, which is structured across both genomic and environmental landscapes, and thus, the bridge among differing uses of the landscape concept (i.e. metaphorically or literally) is that of an adaptive phenotype and its distribution across geographical landscapes in relation to selective pressures. One of the ultimate goals of evolutionary biology should thus be to construct fitness landscapes in geographical space. Natural plant populations are ideal systems with which to explore the feasibility of attaining this goal, because much is known about the quantitative genetic architecture of complex traits for many different plant species. What is less known are the molecular components of this architecture. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Parchman et al. (2012) pioneer one of the first truly genome-wide association studies in a tree that moves us closer to this form of mechanistic understanding for an adaptive phenotype in natural populations of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl. ex Loud.).
While floral herbivores and predispersal seed predators often reduce plant reproductive output, their role in limiting plant fitness and population growth is less clear, especially for iteroparous perennial plant species. In this study we experimentally excluded floral herbivores and predispersal seed predators (insecticide spray versus water control) over a 2-year period to examine the effect of inflorescence-feeding insects on levels of seed production, seedling emergence, and juvenile establishment for Liatris cylindracea, an iteroparous perennial plant. In addition, we collected detailed demographic data on all life stage transitions for an additional set of individuals in the same population over 4 years. We used the experimental and demographic data to construct stochastic individual-based simulations to evaluate the overall effect of inflorescence-feeding insects on adult recruitment per maternal plant (a fitness component) and population growth rate. The insect exclusion experiments showed that damage due to insects decreased seed production, seedling emergence, and juvenile establishment for both years’ experiments. These results indicate that recruitment was seed-limited through juvenile establishment, and that inflorescence-feeding insects influenced the degree of seed limitation. Results of the individual-based simulation models, which included individual demographic and temporal stochasticity, showed that inflorescence-feeding insects negatively affected the number of adult offspring per maternal plant recruited into the population and population growth rate for both years’ experiments. Taken together, the results of the experimental exclusions and the individual-based models indicate that inflorescence-feeding insects can influence population growth rate, and have the potential to act as a selective force for the evolution of traits in this plant species.