B.A. Amherst College 1994, Magna Cum Laude
Ph.D. Rutgers University, 2000
My research focuses on major issues of conservation biology, which can be better understood through genetics- population fragmentation and the impacts on native species by invasive species- two topics that will only become more important in light of current climate change models.
I use species that grow on serpentine and non-serpentine soils in California as a natural model system to study population fragmentation. Serpentine soils have a unique chemistry that is particularly challenging for plant growth. However, there are many species adapted to life on serpentine soils. In California a large number of native plant species are found in these distinct habitats. Because the boundary between serpentine and non-serpentine soils can be very abrupt, it creates a natural laboratory in which to study population fragmentation.
My research currently focuses on 2 plant species, native to California, which are found both on and off of serpentine soils: 1) an annual plant, Collinsia sparsiflora, the Spinster's Blue-Eyed Mary, and 2) Pinus ponderosa. I have documented local adaptation to soil type in both species. Right now I am working to understand how the separate ecotypes are maintained, through a series of studies designed to explore the relationships between gene flow and selection, understanding the quantitative genetics of serpentine tolerance, testing a niche model for the two ecotypes and studying patterns of population differentiation across the range of the species. This research will contribute to our understanding of population fragmentation by describing the genetic consequences of habitat fragmentation in a naturally fragmented system. In addition this research has important implications for the field of conservation genetics- the question of local adaptation and population differentiation is critical for determining conservation priorities. Moreover, serpentine adapted plants will be potentially greatly impacted by climate change as their fragmented habitat may impede plant migration to more climatically suitable habitat.
Upcoming projects include investigating the population genetics of an endangered species of Streptanthus that is endemic to serpentine soils. In addition, I am planning to start a field trial for adaptation to serpentine soils in Port-Ordford-Cedar.
Impacts on Native Species by Invasive Species:
Invasive species come in all forms- plants, animals, pathogens. They each have an impact on the ecosystem they invade. Sudden Oak Death (SOD) is a growing problem in Western Forests. This invasive pathogen attacks many species of trees, and is causing devastation across the West. I am part of a collaborative project focusing on SOD in tanoak. Many tanoak populations have been (or will be) decimated by SOD, and it is one of the few tree species that the pathogen can use to reproduce. This project is of great interest, not only because of the conservation importance, but because of its collaborative nature which includes disease experts, along with geneticists. I am currently conducting a common garden experiment to look at quantitative genetic variation in tanoak seedlings, and then to see how that variation relates to molecular genetic variation (microsatellites) as well as disease resistance. Our results will lend some understanding to naturally occurring levels of variation for both molecular and quantitative genetic variation, as well as disease resistance. This information will hopefully be useful to land managers, who are faced with loosing large numbers of tanoak trees in the near future.
Read more about these projects here.
- Lau, J.A., A.C. McCall, K.F. Davies, J.K McKay and J.W. Wright. 2007. Herbivores and edaphic factors constrain the realized niche of a native plant. Ecology. In Press.
- Wright, J.W. 2007. Local adaptation to serpentine soils in Pinus ponderosa. Plant and Soil. 293: 209-217.
- Wright, J.W. and M.L. Stanton. 2007. Local Adaptation to Serpentine and Non-serpentine Soils in Collinsia sparsiflora. Evolutionary Ecology Research. 8: 1-21.
- Wright, J.W., K.F. Davies, J.A. Lau, A.C. McCall and J.K. McKay. 2006. Experimental verification of ecological niche modeling in a heterogeneous environment. Ecology. 87:2433-2439.
- Wright, J.W., M.L. Stanton and R. Scherson. 2006. Local adaptation to serpentine soils in Collinsia sparsiflora. Evolutionary Ecology Research. 8:1-21
- Wright, J.W. and T.R. Meagher. 2004. Selection on floral characters in natural Spanish populations of Silene latifolia. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 17:382-395.
- Wright, J.W. and T.R. Meagher. 2003. Pollination and seed predation drive flowering phenology in Silene latifolia (Caryophyllaceae). Ecology. 84(8): 2062-2073.