The project addresses the need to understand the impact of environmental change caused by climate variability on natural populations. It will predict the likely effect of temperature change on alpine plants, and so generate information internationally relevant to the management of populations adapting to climate change and locally relevant to the conservation of Australian montane flora. It will also provide training in leading-edge physiological, genomic and statistical techniques.
Phenotypic plasticity, or the ability to change phenotype with environment, is the most important process determining the immediate response of natural populations to environmental change. However studies of plasticity frequently rely on simplifying assumptions, and an understanding of the genomic and epigenomic mechanisms underlying plasticity is only just emerging. The project aims to combine a fine-scale temperature-manipulation experiment with state-of-the-art genomic and multivariate statistical analyses of a native Australian alpine plant. The intended outcome is a comprehensive analysis of: (i) whether multi-trait phenotypic plasticity is adaptive; (ii) whether it can evolve; and (iii) the epigenomic mechanisms that drive it.