Unpredictable growth environments, the rising cost of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer, decreasing freshwater availability, and ongoing soil degradation demand the development of crop varieties that are resilient to abiotic stress. A wide array of abiotic constraints limit plant productivity, and phenotypic plasticity is an important phenomenon to enable plants to adapt to spatiotemporal changes in their environment. Root traits have important roles in soil resource capture, especially in environments with suboptimal water and nutrient availability. Root anatomical and architectural traits determine the temporal and spatial distribution of root foraging in specific soil domains and hence the capture of mobile and immobile resources. Broadly, my research is motivated by the desire to understand how environmental factors shape phenotypic expression of root traits. Research questions integrate multiple scales from genes to plant communities in both low and high input agroecosystems. I aim to develop phenotyping systems and understand root traits to create knowledge about plant function and link that information to crop performance.
Phenotypic plasticity has many potential ecological and physiological benefits, however, to date, our understanding of its genetic regulation, costs and adaptive value, and abiotic and biotic signals that influence the expression of plasticity are poorly understood. My research focuses on the development of plastic responses, their functional implications for soil resource capture, and environmental cues that regulate expression of root plasticity.
I am interested in understanding and defining the genetic architecture regulating plastic responses. The expression of a root trait is the outcome of complex synergistic developmental systems, influenced by many genes and gene products, as well as the environment. To define the mechanisms of development, will aim to understand the genetic control, hormonal regulation, and plant signals that initiate plasticity of individual root traits.
I am interested in understanding plasticity in the context of functional phenomics, or relating traits to plant performance or fitness. Plastic responses can affect the fitness of a genotype and be a response to physical, chemical, and biological processes or resource limitations. Phenotypic plasticity may be adaptive, maladaptive, or neutral in regard to fitness. Functional phenomics seeks to relate traits to plant performance, or fitness and extends more common phenotyping research to not only include traits but also measures of plant performance. I am interested in functional trade-offs between the expression of plasticity, synergistic or antagonistic interactions between root traits, and the ability of roots to acquire soil resources.
I am interested in understanding abiotic and biotic signals that influence the spatiotemporal expression of root plasticity. The availability of soil resources is spatiotemporally dynamic. In the field, plants may be exposed to successive or multiple, simultaneous stresses. To harness the power and knowledge of genomic information and agricultural application of plasticity, we need to be able to comprehensively link genetic information to “real world” phenotypes in “real world” environments.