Professor of Biology Christopher Smith has received a $1,112,316 grant from the National Science Foundation to study adaptation in Joshua trees, a species of yucca native to the Mojave Desert. These plants are highly co-adapted to their pollinators, yucca moths, and this mutualistic relationship is generally thought to be the cause of differentiation between species. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that climate may actually have a larger impact on this divergence than coevolution.
This five-year project, funded through the NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology, will bring together experts in ecophysiology, evolutionary ecology, and genomics to examine Joshua trees’ local adaptation to climate, and to compare the roles of climate and pollinators in promoting differentiation among Joshua tree populations. Smith will bring together researchers from California State University Northridge, the University of Alabama, the University of Hawaii, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the Chicago Botanical Garden to conduct the study, which will inform conservation efforts and enhance public understanding of climate change.