AraBreed - Evolutionary responses of plants to environmental changes through the lens of ecological theories


Niek Scheepens, Cyrille Violle, Denis Vile, François Vasseur, Eric Garnier, Detlef Weigel, Oliver Bossdorf, Elena Kazakou, Thomas Lenormand 


March 2018 – October 2022

In short

The core of the project is a multi-year evolution experiment with mixed Arabidopsis thaliana accessions under contrasting nutrient availability and herbivory treatments, which we use to understand phenotypic and genomic adaptation to these stressors.

Project description

The ability of organisms, specifically plants, to adapt to changing environmental conditions is of central interest in evolutionary ecology, and understanding this process is important given rapid global climate change. Adaptation can be hampered by genetic drift, environmental heterogeneity, and lack of genetic variance of underlying traits. Moreover, ecological theory states that plants cannot simultaneously be efficient at certain tasks, such as acquiring and conserving resources, or be both competitive and stress tolerant. Resulting trade-offs were originally identified in comparative ecology as major constraints on the diversification of life forms and functions, but the general applicability of these constraints remains to be elucidated.

Experimental evolution provides a formidable opportunity to examine the process, rate and strength of selection in real time, as well as to test the validity of prominent ecological hypotheses. The AraBreed project will assess changes in major ecological trade-offs and the underlying allelic composition of plant populations in response to controlled selection pressures combining biotic and abiotic stresses. Importantly, AraBreed will benefit from extensive genetic material generated on the model species Arabidopsis thaliana to conduct experimental evolution over three generations in environments contrasting in resource (nutrient and water) availability and herbivory. We will use 350 F2 populations (500,000 genotypes) previously generated from random crosses between 400 phenotyped and sequenced natural accessions collected across Eurasia. This has likely recreated phenotypes thought to be purged from natural populations and gives access to genetic and phenotypic diversity in both ancestral and adapted populations. Evolving plants will be phenotyped in situ and collected for analysis in controlled conditions (ex situ phenotyping), reciprocal transplant experiments and next-generation sequencing (pool-seq). In addition to the analysis of the evolutionary trajectories of trait covariations and genetic trade-offs, results will be compared to evolutionary outcomes under variable climates in a multi-site evolution experiment conducted on the same species worldwide.

Experimental evolution on a small, short-lived model species grown in contrasting environments provides a powerful tool to examine the extent of intraspecific phenotypic variability, the role of constraints and selection in shaping pervasive ecological trade-offs, as well as to identify potential limits for selection on specific traits. The project, at the intersection of comparative ecology, evolutionary biology and population genomics is multifaceted and highly transdisciplinary. AraBreed therefore carries large potential to advance both fundamental and applied life sciences.


There are no publications from this project yet.