Project Overview

Ecophysiology of reproduction in the hybrid fern complex Dryopteris.

Faculty Sponsor

Eddie Watkins (




The proposed research will investigate how diploid and polyploid plants respond to increases in temperature and drought, two predicted components of ongoing and future global change. A body of evidence suggests that ploidal level can influence species' ability to respond to changing environments and climates, and we propose to study the nature and magnitude of these hypothesized differences in an experimental setting, using integrated analyses of demography and physiological ecology. Our study system is a set of six fern species in the genus Dryopteris that occur throughout eastern North America, including two sets of a known polyploid and its two diploid progenitors.

Polyploidy, or whole genome duplication, is a pervasive phenomenon in plants. Recent estimates suggest that 15-30% of vascular plants are polyploids, and polyploid species include a vast number of crop plants with economic and agricultural uses for humans (e.g., cotton, wheat, potato, soybean, etc.). Polyploidy is known to influence a wide range of genetic and physiological features of plants, and polyploids can be more vigorous than diploids, have broader ecological niches, wider distributions, and increased ability to invade new habitats, all driven by novel genetic combinations or expression patterns that can produce extensive changes in numerous traits. Understanding how ploidal level may affect plants' ability to respond to global change is a high priority, given the frequency of polyploids in nature and among our agriculturally important species. The results of this work will improve our understanding of how ploidal level may influence species responses to global change in the field.

Student Qualifications

Students should have an interest in organismal biology and plant physiology. Qualified applicants should have some previous lab experience and have taken Bio 181 or higher courses that focus on organismal ecology and evolution. 

Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

8 weeks

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (