Morgan Raath

Masters Student

Plant ecology meets phylogenetics

(with with Prof Peter C. le Roux)

I am a plant ecologist, with a particular interest in the relationship between inter- and intra-specific interactions, how the outcome of these interactions changes in relation to changing abiotic conditions, and how the fine-scale impact of these interactions scale-up to influence broader community patterns. My work as a postdoctoral fellow will be centered around a widespread keystone species (and cushion-forming plant) in the sub-Antarctic, Azorella selago.

In cushion plants, damage (or stem death) can be caused by a number of factors, including climatic extremes (e.g. strong winds), burrowing by small mammals, shading by other plants, infection by pathogens, herbivory and trampling by humans. The first component of my study will examine the fine-scale directionality of dieback in A. selago in relation to  wind exposure and genetic relatedness (linked to topography). Second, the expansion of species’ altitudinal distributions upslope in response to rising temperatures appears to be a biological consequence of climate change. However, the link between long-term changing environmental conditions and genetic diversity related to species’ range expansion rates is poorly understood. I will therefore examine whether genetic diversity is reduced in A. selago populations at range margins over a 15-year period (between 2006 and 2021).