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Queen's University

BIOL 537 2015-16
Dr. C. Eckert

Rm:   4447A Bioscience Complex
Tel:   (613) 533-6158
Faculty Web Site:


We are investigating the process of evolutionary adaptation: What is the role of natural selection in relation to other evolutionary forces? How do interactions between ecology & genetics influence the mode & tempo of evolution? What constrains adaptation thereby limiting species geographical and ecological distributions?

And we do all this with plants. Yes plants. Because plants exhibit unparalleled diversity in life history, reproductive mode & genetic system, and they often exhibit striking evolutionary diversity within individual species and sometimes within individual populations. Plus they are really strange and wonderful organisms and very co-operative during experiments. In my lab, we embrace our inner botanist and a large part of training in my lab is learning about plant natural history and ecology.

The thesis projects in my lab usually dovetail with the major projects being conducted by my grad students, but there are always some exploratory projects that strike off in new directions and are appropriate for particularly intrepid undergrads. I am also eager to hear about novel ideas from undergraduate students who have a particular interest. All students are directly supervised by me.

This year (summer & fall 2015, winter 2016) we have a big project going on in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta investigating the ecology & evolution of altitudinal range limits. I will take on one student to work in the Rockies on some aspect of range limits tailored to the interest of the student in question. As an example, it is expected that plants should provision their seeds with the resources required to increase their survival in the environment to which they will disperse. A large component of these seeds resources is lipid but the optimal type of lipid may depend on the environment. Saturated lipids contain more energy but are more difficult to metabolize under cold temperatures than unsaturated lipids. Using biochemical assays of seed collected across altitude in conjunction with germination experiments, I would like a student to test the hypothesis that plants at higher altitudes provision more unsaturated lipids than those at lower altitudes, and that lipid composition involves a trade-off between the speed of seed germination and the rate of subsequent seedling growth. This project would involve 3-4 months fieldwork in the Rockies plus lab work back at Queen's U.

We are also working on the ecology and genomics of reproductive transitions in clonal plants of eastern North America. I would like a student to test the hypothesis that a transition from sexual to asexual reproduction leads to variation in genome size and structure as well as the regressive loss of sexual traits. This project would involve fieldwork in wetlands across eastern North America plus lab work back here at Queen's U.

I also have a conservation-oriented project I'm quite keen on. This project will investigate the co-evolution of geographic ranges between crop plants and their associated weeds. Plant breeding and biotechnology are aimed at increasing the ecological range of crop plants. To what extent can their weeds keep up? This project will involve synthesis of data from the literature and thus could be started in September for students that are otherwise occupied during the summer.

I will take on 2-3 motivated and enthusiastic thesis students next year.

If you are interested in talking about potential projects, please email ( as I will be away doing research in Australia until 23 March, so I will have to tell you about the projects in more detail over skype.


Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000