Understanding the causes and consequences of biodiversity

Plant populations have a remarkable amount of biodiversity…. even if it is sometimes hard to see with the eyes alone!

The intraspecific (aka “within-species”) diversity of plant populations has really important ecological consequences – it is just as important to have a lot of different types of individuals in a population as it is to have different types of species in a community. This is especially true if everything that lives in an ecosystem depends on the presence of that plant species for habitat and/or food.

Maintaining within-species diversity is essential to ensuring the resilience of systems that provide services humans care about. These include (but are not limited to!) habitat for the animals we eat, protection from disturbance, and carbon storage.

Multiple factors can influence how many different types of individuals exist in a population. These factors may be ecological, evolutionary, or social (i.e., decisions made by humans). Disentangling how these factors interact to determine the identity and composition of individuals within a population can certainly be complicated, but provides exciting opportunities to ask scientific questions that both advance our basic understanding of how the natural world works, and provide solutions to environmental problems brought on by global change.

Collecting seagrass samples in the field at low tide. We use molecular tools to identify different individuals when they all look alike.
UCD undergraduate student Kenzie Pollard shows off samples ready for DNA extraction!
A map of the genotypic diversity of a 50 cm x 50 cm patch of seagrass meadow. Every circle represents a plant shoot and every color is a unique genotype (Figure 1: Kollars et al. 2022 Ecology)

Nicole is committed to inclusive classrooms, laboratories, and academic departments rooted in a deep understanding of the dignity of every human person – regardless of race, nationality, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, creed, ability, age, and/or socio-economic background.