Syracuse University Magazine


Project: Understanding the Evolutionary Transition between Annual and Perennial Life History Strategies

Investigator: Jannice Friedman

Department: Biology

Sponsor: National Science Foundation

Amount Awarded: $475,900 (July 2014-June 2017)

Background: This research addresses one of the most fundamental questions faced by all organisms: When is the best time to reproduce to maximize the survival and success of their offspring? In plants, there are two broad categories of reproductive strategies—annuals that reproduce once and die, and perennials that reproduce repeatedly and cycle through vegetative and reproductive phases. This research utilizes a model plant system, Mimulus guttatus, commonly known as monkey flower, native to the West Coast of North America, to investigate the ecological and genetic mechanisms underlying flowering time differences in annuals and perennials. The focus on the role of environmental cues, including day length and temperature, in the transition to flowering is particularly pertinent as climates change and plants adjust to new environmental regimes.

Impact: The research represents a novel and exciting opportunity to understand the genetic basis of differences between annuals and perennials, while directly connecting natural genetic variation with the ecological mechanisms driving adaptive evolution. The proposal is unique in looking at genetic variation from different annual and perennial populations from across a species’ geographic range, and testing the fitness differences in a field common garden located in the native environment. Furthermore, using high-throughput genomic sequencing, the research will make the crucial link between genomic architecture and local adaptation. In addition to its scientific impact, the research includes opportunities for students to be involved in both field and laboratory research, supervised by postdoctoral fellow Matthew Rubin. So far, we have involved students in both our local field experiment on SU’s South Campus, and also at our field site on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.


The research team's field common garden (above) on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, was established by postdoctoral fellow Matthew Rubin in October 2015. Annual (below) and perennial (bottom) M. guttatus populations growing in the researchers' common garden on South Campus in Syracuse.

Field common garden photo by Matthew Rubin; plant photos by Genevieve Pilch