Cost of reproduction varies with environmental conditions and impacts the size at flowering
Contributed by: Kimmy Kellett @kellettkimmy
Agriculture, Agroecosystem, Central America, Conservation, Demography, Ecology, Environmental change, Evolution, Field, Fundamental research, Lesbian, Natural selection, Plants, Queer, Terrestrial, Tradeoffs, Woman
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Kellett, K.M. and Shefferson, R.P. 2018. Temporal variation in reproductive costs and payoffs shapes the flowering strategy of a neotropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. Popul Ecol, 60: 77-87. link
Slide 1: Researcher’s Background
Kimmy (she/her) is an associate professor at Perimeter College at Georgia State University. Her doctoral research focused on understanding factors that influence demographic patterns in plant populations and she now works on assessing biodiversity of local plant communities with her undergraduate students.
PB: Why did you become a biologist?
KK: I have loved nature since I was a kid and biology was my favorite subject throughout school. However, I did not figure out that I could study nature as a career (I was on the path to becoming a medical doctor) until I took a study abroad course in Tropical Ecology my senior year of college and conducted my first independent research project. I loved the process of science, and getting to be outside in natural spaces to collect data was an added bonus. I realized that becoming an ecologist aligned with my interests a lot better than working in a hospital.
PB: What is your favorite part about your job?
KK: In graduate school I came to love teaching more than I loved research. I find that helping students find their “spark” or deepen their curiosity about the natural world is super rewarding. Currently, my favorite part of my job is when I take students outside for labs and find them totally fascinated by things like fungi, bird calls, or cicada husks.
PB: What advice do you have for aspiring biologists?
KK: Seek out as many different research experiences (internships, course-based research, work-study research) as you can! Talk to other biologists about their experience and how they got to where they are (most of us did not take a “direct” route) and never be afraid to ask questions. There’s no guidebook to becoming a biologist – you’ll get there only with the help of mentors and friends!
PB: Do you feel that any dimension of your identity is invisible or under-represented/marginalized in STEM?
PB: Can you elaborate on your answer above?
KK: In some STEM fields and careers, LGBTQIA+ people may not feel safe or comfortable being out to colleagues, students, and employers. Personally, I sometimes hesitate to talk about my wife or identify as a lesbian to my students if I do not know them well, especially because I work at a university in the South. However, I am beginning to recognize the importance of being open and honest with my students, as LGBTQIA+ students may be looking for a safe person to talk to.
Slide 2: Research Overview
Take home message of study
Producing flowers, seeds, and fruits can be costly for plants. Investing energy and resources in these reproductive structures is a trade-off with investment in growth or survival. This tradeoff can become more extreme when resources are scarce or environmental conditions are harsh. In this study, Kimmy looked at milkweed plants in the reproductive stage across varying environmental conditions. The allocation of resources towards reproduction or growth varies as environmental conditions change throughout time, and influences the size at which tropical milkweed plants produce flowers.
A tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) shown flowering and producing small fruits (seed pods).
Slide 3: Key Research Points
During time periods in which reproduction had higher costs (harsher environmental conditions), plants tended to flower at a slightly larger size. This strategy may be prioritizing growth and delaying reproductive efforts until the plant is larger. In harsher conditions, this may help the plant survive past reproduction. During time periods that had low reproductive costs (during favorable conditions) plants flowered at smaller sizes. With no costs to reproduction, the plant is able to initiate reproduction at a smaller size. Size is shown as number of nodes on a plant. Error bars represent standard error.
This research aids in our understanding of evolution by highlighting the role of variation over time in shaping the life history and flowering strategy of a tropical plant. It also provides insight into how future changes in climate, including changes in seasonal patterns and an increase in harsh periods such as droughts may impact the reproductive schedule and population dynamics of plants.