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Unraveling the history of adaptation in an island model: Cape Verde Arabidopsis

Project description

Reconstructing the mechanisms of the evolutionary process

Islands, due to their isolation, have played a critical role in evolutionary theory by facilitating advancements in evolutionary genetics. The EU-funded CVI_ADAPT project aims to comprehensively characterise the adaptive process in a manageable and ecologically relevant island system involving the small plant Arabidopsis thaliana, commonly known as thale cress. This plant species exhibits remarkable phenotypic and genetic divergence. The project will utilise a unique collection of thale cress samples from intriguing populations situated at the species' range periphery, specifically the Cape Verde Islands. By analysing these samples, the project aims to reconstruct the plant's adaptive history, ultimately creating a roadmap and toolkit for predicting the effects of environmental fluctuations and long-term changes.


Islands have played a pivotal role in evolutionary theory since Darwin and Wallace. Due to their isolation, they represent natural laboratories, providing uncomplicated microcosms where fundamental principles of the evolutionary process can be revealed. One area where island systems can provide a crucial advance is in evolutionary genetics. Here, a primary goal is to reconstruct the mechanisms, mode and tempo of the evolutionary process by identifying specific adaptive functional variants and studying the historical dynamics of these in nature. However, even with recent advances in tools and technologies (e.g. affordable genome-wide sequencing, developments in genome manipulation), the complexity of most natural systems makes this a challenging task.

The proposed research launches a program that employs a unique set of thale cress (Arabidopsis) samples from intriguing populations at the edge of the species range (Cape Verde Islands) to comprehensively characterize the adaptive process in a tractable and ecologically relevant island system. This collection represents the first population sample from this region, where a single individual was collected 30 years ago and has long been an enigma due to its remarkable phenotypic and genetic divergence. We will combine field monitoring, population genetic analyses, trait mapping, powerful new genome editing technology (CRISPR), and spatially explicit modeling to reconstruct the history of the adaptive process in exceptional detail. Moreover, synthesizing our results in the context of biological networks will provide the opportunity to decipher how epistasis and pleiotropy impacted adaptive trajectories. By applying the wealth of tools available in Arabidopsis thaliana to this intriguing natural population, we will uncover general principles of adaptation and produce a roadmap and toolkit for future research in diverse systems to predict outcomes of environmental fluctuations and longer-term changes.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 609 375,00
80539 Munchen

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Bayern Oberbayern München, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 609 375,00

Beneficiaries (1)