CAREER: Ecoevolutionary dynamics of plant-pollinator interactions in agricultural systems

Project: Research project

Project Details


Effective plant-pollinator interactions are necessary for the production of nutritious fruits and vegetables, and thus are vital for food security. However, overwhelming evidence suggests that most animal-pollinated crops are pollination limited in the US. The research component of this proposal will provide data on the ways that crop domestication results in changes in plant-pollinator interactions that may be linked to suboptimal pollination. Specifically, this project will combine experimental evolution, electrophysiology, genomics, and analyses of past evolution to understand how human-mediated selection affected traits of flowers, pollinator foraging preferences, and pollinator sensory systems. The education component of this project will (1) enhance research opportunities for undergraduate students of underrepresented minority groups, (2) offer a graduate course that facilitates an understanding and active engagement of students into solutions to problems of equity and inclusion in academia, and (3) create opportunities to engage the public in community science projects that build science literacy.

Artificial selection is the main evolutionary force shaping phenotypes and fitness of domesticated species. Despite the range expansion and dominance of domesticated plants and animals across the globe, the mechanisms by which human-mediated selection shapes, via its effects on plant traits, the ecological interactions and reciprocal evolutionary changes of wild species have not been systematically investigated. This project addresses fundamental questions about the direct and indirect role of artificial selection on the eco-evolutionary dynamics of plant-pollinator systems in agricultural niches. Using the plant genus Cucurbita and their specialized pollinators, this project has three specific aims: (1) characterize the role of reciprocal artificial and pollinator-mediated selection on the evolution of floral functional traits through comparative phylogenetics and experimental evolution, (2) determine how shifts in floral signaling of domesticated plants drive changes in pollinator foraging behavior using geographically replicated field choice experiments, and (3) investigate the genetic underpinnings of changes in pollinator sensory systems that result from foraging on domesticated plants by integrating electrophysiology experiments with functional genomics. The education component of this project will provide research opportunities for students from underrepresented minority groups to engage in convergent research themes that can be applied to solutions to real-life problems of pollinators in agricultural systems. This project will also include the participation of the public to expand the geographic sampling and data collection for the above research aims. The integration of the proposed research and education activities will generate the foundation for the understanding of how human-mediated selection influences the evolution of plants, pollinators, and their interactions while developing a framework to engage and retain students and the general public in scientific activities.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date5/1/214/30/26


  • National Science Foundation: $1,208,359.00


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