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Community genetics experts establish research program at UTAS


Assoc Prof Joe Bailey

Assoc Prof Joe Bailey and Dr Jen Schweitzer are "community geneticists" or "community ecologists" who recently moved from a thriving lab at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to join the School of Plant Science at UTAS. Community genetics is a relatively new discipline and Joe and Jen are bubbling over with ideas for studies of Australian systems. Joe holds a prestigious ARC Futur­e Fellowship.   He describes himself as an evolutionary ecologist with broad interests in how species interactions link genes and ecosystems, how natural selection operates in a community context, and how these processes scale geographically and with genetic resolution (i.e., small molecular differences to subpopulation structure). He takes a holistic, integrative view of natural systems; he has worked with native and introduced plants and herbivores, from microbes to mammals, linking genes to ecosystems.  Joe will be giving a public seminar in the UTAS School of Plant Science on Friday September 24, 2010.  The talk, entitled "From genes to ecosystems: a synthesis across systems and environments", will give a broad overview of Joe's research interests and activities.  You can have a sneak preview by clicking on this link to the abstract. ­­

Dr Jen Schweitzer


Jen's research is broadly centred on the genetic interactions between species and the ecological and evolutionary consequences of these interactions for ecosystem processes.  She focuses on the interactions of dominant plant species, their associated herbivores, soil microbial communities and the linkages to carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen cycling.  To date, Jen's studies have focussed on plant-soil feedbacks in poplar, aspen, oak and tulip poplar forests, but is looking forward to expanding her research interests to include eucal­ypt communities and other native Australian ecosystems. Already Jen has commenced projects on the ecosystem consequences of evolutionary divergence in Eucalyptus globulus, examining how local adaptation within a species can change ecosystem properties such as biodiversity, soil carbon storage and overall soil fertility. ­ Upcoming projects include an investigation of the genetic basis of plant–soil interactions and carbon and nitrogen cycling; she will also be investigating the role of climate change on common plant traits that can influence flammability, herbivory and rates of decomposition. All Jen's studies have applied and theoretical implications for gaining a better understanding of the importance of both species and genetic diversity to a diverse array of ecosystem processes. Jen recently gave a public seminar at the UTAS School of Plant Science (Friday 20 August 2010) - "The ecosystem consequences of plant genetic variation" -  and you can get a brief overview of what she said by reading her abstract here.

Both Joe and Jen are keen to develop broad research programs in the southern hemisphere.  They are always open to creative, interdisciplinary collaborations on a variety of topics ... so feel free to contact Joe Bailey or Jen Schweitzer with your community genetics/ecology questions and ideas!

Biobuzz issue twelve, August 2010