Nationality: People’s Republic of China
Positions: PI of the evolutionary ecology group
Academic title: Professor
Alternative E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Research Fields and Research plan
2.1 Research Fields
My research interest is about plant speciation and evolutionary adaptation, especially the forest health and ecological genomics. My team aims to achieve the ultimate goal of plant evolutionary ecology, that is, to understand the establishment process of a given life history within one taxon and life-history diversity across plant species. Furthermore, we are interested in the evolutionary adaptation to climate change and the formation of new lineages in plants. The core concepts are speciation and adaptation. In the past, many scientists in this field carried out a mass of artificial experiments in the wild and also laboratory, using artificial crossing and other methods of reproductive biology for plants. These works showed rich diversity in plant phenotypes and life-history features and also indicated the challenges in understanding of the underlying adaptation to ecological environments and the historically evolutionary processes. For example, the spatial structure (dispersal) and genetic drift, the phenotypic plasticity and also the convergently evolved phenotypes can be the underlying mechanisms that shaped the apparent patterns of phenotypes and life-history traits. Thus, scientists aiming to understand plant phenotypes and life-history features begin to employ molecular genetic data and methods to distinguish the complex factors involved into the past evolutionary processes.
In short, we study the distribution and diversity of plant phenotypes, such as life-history traits (flowering time and so on), using methods of evolutionary ecology, molecular ecology and ecological genomics. Based on these studies, we aim to understand the genetic basis of adaptation and speciation, to uncover the formation of phenotypic and life-history diversity, to find novel knowledge regarding to plant evolution, to construct new hypotheses of evolutionary ecology at the level the genomes or genes.
2.2 Research plan
The advanced molecular technology, such as high-throughout sequencing of DNA and RNA, can generate numerous genetic data and whole genome sequences. These novel data can show the relationships among individuals, populations and species, especially in combination with phenotypic data and niche boundary. Therefore, these new technologies provide plenty of opportunities to address the formation of life-history characters, functional traits and important phenotypes within plant species and enhance our understanding of the formation of ecological differences and reproductive isolation between lineages. In the future, we will use these novel technologies and datasets to carry out our evolutionary study and ecological genomics in depth.
For example, hybrid zones are well-known models for studying speciation and ecological adaptation. To date, the total number of plant hybrid zones detected in literatures was surprisingly small, due to challenge in identifying hybrid zones exactly. Our previous studies found signals of hybridization among four taxa of the Picea likiangensis species complex and also the hybridization among three Castanea species. These fundamental investigations showed that several hybrid populations might have formed in multiple regions. On the basis of these work, we plan an in-depth study of hybrid zones using multiple methods. (I) We plan to analyze the genetic structure of hybrid populations and infer the types of hybrid zones, based on population genomic analyses of a larger size of samples. (II) We will estimate the relative contribution from each parental taxon to the hybrid populations and resolve the genetic exchange between parental taxa using local ancestry inference and coalescent simulations. (III) Using the general linear mixed model and multiple regression analysis, we will test the role of environmental factors and geographic distance in the formation and maintenance of hybrid zones, and discuss the factors influencing genetic exchange between taxa. The series of studies above will reveal the important factors in processes of the formation and maintenance of hybrid zones, and illuminate the effects of hybrid populations on the divergence between parental taxa. These studies can deepen our understanding of the evolution of hybrid populations of plants, and can provide insights for developing efficient strategies for the conservation and management of biodiversity.
Additionally, we’d like to develop new projects to advance our understanding of speciation and adaptation in plants. Therefore, the works in future are not confined to the contents above.
3. PUBLICATIONS ( * : correspondence )
1) Sun, Y.*, Lu Z., Zhu X., Ma H. (2020) Genomic basis of homoploid hybrid speciation within chestnut trees. Nature Communications. 11: 3375.
2) Sun, Y.*, Abbott R. J., Lu Z., Mao K., Zhang L., Wang X., Ru D., Liu J.* (2018) Reticulate evolution within a spruce (Picea) species complex revealed by population genomic analysis. Evolution. 72: 2669–2681.
3) Sun, Y., Abbott, R.J., Li, L., Li, L., Zou, J., Liu, J. (2014) Evolutionary history of Purple cone spruce (Picea purpurea) in the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau: homoploid hybrid origin and Pleistocene expansion. Molecular Ecology. 23: 343–359.
4) Ru D., Mao, K.S., Zhang L., Wang X., Lu Z., Sun Y.* (2016) Genomic evidence for polyphyletic origins and inter-lineage gene flow within complex taxa: a case study of Picea brachytyla in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Molecular Ecology. 25: 232–241.
5) Sun Y., Li, L.L., Li, L., Zou, J., Liu, J. (2015) Distributional dynamics and interspecific gene flow in Picea likiangensis and P. wilsonii triggered by climate change on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Journal of Biogeography. 42: 475–484.