Our lab seeks to understand the population genetic structure of temperate and boreal trees, and the evolutionary dynamics that have resulted in that structure. We are particularly interested in the extent of local adaptation to climate in tree populations, the phenotypic traits and genes involved in local adaptation, and the capacity of those populations to adapt to new climates. To investigate this question we are using genomic tools as well as phenotypic data from common gardens and controlled environment experiments. We also infer the phylogeography, demographic history, and levels of gene flow of these populations using a variety of selectively neutral genetic markers. Finally, our work is applied to guide genetic conservation and management strategies for our forests. Our research is funded through Genome Canada, Genome BC, the Forest Genetics Council of BC, Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
NSERC Strategic and BIOCAP Canada Foundation
The primary objective of this large-scale genomics project funded by Genome Canada, Genome BC, Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions and the Forest Genetics Council of BC is to improve provincial seed transfer policy and operational forest management response to climate change by: 1) comparing the adaptive portfolio of operational seedlots from tree breeding programs and seed orchards to the climatic distribution and landscape genomics of natural populations; 2) developing strategies for operational seed transfer that will reduce the risk of loss of forest productivity and health due to maladaptation in planted forests; and 3) evaluating ecological, economic, social, and legal implications of these results for forest-dependent communities and ecosystems. In the process of meeting these objectives, we are learning a great deal about the genomic basis of local adaptation in conifers, microevolutionary processes in conifer populations, and the capacity of these populations to respond to climate change through adaptation and through phenotypic plasticity.
This conservation genetics textbook authored by Fred Allendorf, Gordon Luikart, and Sally Aitken was published in 2012 by Wiley-Blackwell. It provides a comprehensive overview of the essential concepts and tools needed to understand the role of genetics in the conservation of threatened species and in the management of species of ecological and economic importance.
The synthesis of knowledge about the capacity for evolutionary responses to a rapidly changing climate, and the capacity for human intervention to accelerate those responses, has been the focus of several recent review papers (Aitken et al. 2008, Alberto et al. 2013, Franks et al. In press, Aitken and Whitlock In Press), and these syntheses have influenced research directions in our lab.
Current Graduate Students
Post Doctoral Fellows and Research Assistants
FRST210 Forest Plant Biology II Sections
The functional biology of trees and other forest plants in their environment, with an emphasis on gymnosperms.
One fine body…
CONS501 Topics in Conservation Genetics Sections
The genetics of small populations, inbreeding, extinction risks due to genetic versus demography factors, adaptation and climate change, and methods for assessing genetic diversity for conservation planning.
One fine body…