The Morton Arboretum Is Leading An International Study
In spite of how familiar oaks are,we know little about how species are related to one another. "There are many basic features of the oak 'tree of life'* that we have yet to resolve,"says Andrew Hipp, Ph.D., Plant Systematist and Herbarium Curator at The Morton Arboretum. "It has long been thought that oaks swap genes freely between species. If this is true, do we even know what an oak species is?"
Hipp and his colleagues have set out to investigate the evolution of the oaks of the Americas in an ambitious three-year study funded by a U.S. National Science Foundation grant of more than $600,000. The project is led by The Morton Arboretum in collaboration with colleagues at Duke University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Minnesota– Twin Cities, and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. "We're planning to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the oaks of the Americas over the past 40 million years, as well as the evolution of the traits that explain species' ecological and geographic distributions," Hipp explains. "We expect to learn how oaks have evolved in response to past climatic changes and we hope to gain insight into how oaks—and other tree species—may adapt to future climate change."
The project integrates cutting edge, next-generation DNA sequencing methods to reconstruct the oak tree of life; molecular population genetics to study hybridiza-tion and species boundaries; and a combination of experimental ecology, geographic information systems(GIS) technology, and the study of herbarium collections to characterize oak traits and environments. The wide range of expertise among the researchers collaborating on this project enables a truly integrative investigation of oak evolution.