My postdoctoral research aims to explore sexual selection in plants
Sexual selection can be an important mechanism driving evolution and species diversity in animals. However, less is known about whether/how sexual selection operates in sessile organisms like plants. My postdoctoral research is aimed at elucidating the mechanisms of sexual selection in plants. The work will involve a new semi in vivo assay where styles (part of the female reproductive organ in plants) are pollinated, and pollen tubes (which deliver the male gamete to the female) are allowed to germinate and grow down the style toward the ovary in vivo. The pollinated styles are then removed and placed on artificial media with individually excised ovules and allowed to grow toward a particular ovule. By varying the genetic identity and number of pollen grains and ovules, I will be able to investigate the interactions between pollen tubes, pollen tubes and styles, as well as pollen tube and ovules, and assess whether female ovules "favor" particular pollen grains (i.e., exhibit mate preference). We expect wind-pollinated, out-crossing species to experience stronger sexual selection because females are presented with a large pool of random and unrelated potential mates from which to "choose." As such, I am currently working with Plantago lanceolata. However, I may also investigate other species, particularly the closely related self-pollinator Plantago major, which is expected to not exhibit strong sexual selection.