Dr Sally N Aitken
Dr Sally N Aitken
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).
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.