A long-term interest in the Hawaiian Islands – beginning from Theresa’s undergrad days in the lab of Dr. Stephen Weller and Ann Sakai – is continuing in our latest project.  In collaboration with Dr. Valerie Pence at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s Center for Conservation and Research of Wildlife (CREW) and Dr. Nellie Sugii at the Lyon Arboretum on O’ahu, our lab is helping to develop genetic markers to aid in the conservation and cryopreservation of several endangered plant species.  Known as “exceptional” plant species, these plants that cannot be conserved using conventional seed banking mechanisms (either with recalcitrant seeds or they just do not produce enough seed).  This project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

In addition to our project with the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s CREW team, we also have longstanding experience working with the Hawaiian genus, Schiedea.  This genus that has undergone extensive radiation in the Hawaiian Islands and contains a full range of breeding systems – including hermaphroditism, gynodioecy (co-occurrence of females and hermaphrodites), and dioecy (co-occurrence of females and males).

As a post-doc, I worked with Drs. Stephen Weller, Ann Sakai, and Diane Campbell on a quantitative genetics experiment in which we conducted artificial selection to study the genetic potential for sex allocation shifts to male and female function in two gynodioecious species, Schiedea salicaria and S. adamantis. Many traits associated with increased male and female function have a heritable basis and thus may contribute directly to the evolution of dioecy. In addition, we also measured the quantitative genetics of ecophysiological traits using plants from our initial crossing program for both species. We found that some ecophysiological traits are heritable, but only in certain sexes within different species. This is of particular importance because the heritability of ecophysiological traits have rarely been measured on the scale of our study.

In our lab at UC, we are now continuing to use microsatellite markers we developed to examine issues of population genetics, migration rates, and gene flow.