We study adaptation in a swiftly changing world

We study the many factors that determine species distributions. Specifically, we are interested in plant adaptation and the processes that lead to both local adaptation and speciation. We use a great variety of methods, from genomics to distribution modeling to field and lab experiments. We also conduct research in a broad set of ecosystems, from deserts to vernal pools to mountains, and at a wide variety of scales, from genes to plant endophytes (e.g., bacteria and fungi) to plant communities. Our current research projects occur in California, Mexico, and Australia and are focused on the effects of environmental change on species range limits, the determinants of specialization (niche breadth), and the role of gene flow on adaptation. We are also focused on understanding vulnerabilities and adaptive responses of plants in the face of global change and we actively engage in interdisciplinary collaborations in order to develop solutions for conserving biodiversity.


Fall 2022

We received an NSF Organismal Responses to Climate Change grant entitled, “Harnessing Adaptive Variation in Drought Resistance Strategies to Manage Populations Under Climate Change,” in collaboration with the labs of Ben Blackman, Siobhan Brady, Daniel Runcie, and Nicholas Kooyers. In this grant, we will be working to understand the evolutionary mechanisms of drought adaptation in western North American monkeyflowers.

A new paper entitled, “Environmental DNA (eDNA) detects temporal and habitat effects on community composition and endangered species in ephemeral ecosystems: a case study in vernal pools, led by Dannise Ruiz-Ramos has been accepted for publication at Environmental DNA.

Summer 2022

Reece Riley has joined the lab as a graduate student.  Welcome!

Spring 2022

Congratulations to Brandon Hendrickson on completing his PhD!

Congratulations to Lillie Pennington on being awarded a Ford Foundation Dissertation Year Fellowship! Read the news here.

We received an NSF BEE grant entitled, “Integrating Evolutionary Genetics and Population Ecology to Detect Contemporary Adaptation to Climate Change Across a Species Range,” in collaboration with the labs of Seema Sheth, Christopher Muir, Lluvia Flores-Renteria, and Jeff Diez. In this grant, we will be working to understand how evolution has influenced the adaptation of scarlet monkeyflowers to recent, severe drought in the California Sierra Nevada.

Fall 2021

We are grateful to have received a grant from Yosemite Conservancy to study the monkeyflowers that grow on Yosemite Valley’s big walls, in collaboration with Diana Tataru and Katie Ferris at Tulane University, and Erin Dickman and Jesse McGahey at Yosemite National Park. See a video overview of the project.

A new paper on microbial biogeography patterns in California and Baja California vernal pools led by Jorge Montiel-Molina has been published at Microbial Ecology.

A new paper from the lab led by Jackie Shay has been accepted at Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. In this paper, we assess whether ecological and evolutionary rules of plant species geographic ranges may exist, and if so, how such rules can help with conserving plant biodiversity.

Summer 2021

Congratulations to Jorge Montiel on completing his PhD!

Congratulations to former lab member, Dr. Molly Stephens, on her new role as Executive Director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced!

Congratulations to Lillie Pennington et al. on a new paper in Evolution that investigates patterns of genetic adaptive potential of populations across species’ geographical ranges. 

Spring 2021

Congratulations to Jackie Shay on completing her PhD! Jackie now transitions to be the full-time associate director of the UC Merced Center for Engaged Teaching & Learning.

Congratulations to Jorge Montiel on successfully defending his PhD thesis!

A new paper led by Ezra Kottler exploring the question of how gene flow effects the adaptive potential populations on the edges species ranges has been published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

What’s “eDNA?” A paper led by Rachel Meyer describing the California environmental DNA (CALeDNA) program has been published in the journal California Agriculture as part of a special issue on community (aka citizen) science.

RIP 2020!

Summer 2020

RadioBio, our campus science outreach podcast, has received the UC President’s Award for Outstanding Student Leadership. Congratulations to the grad. students who have developed and maintained this podcast through the years, including students in our lab. RadioBio has also been included in NSF’s online multimedia platform, ‘Science 360,’ a big honor.

Spring 2020

COVID-19 has changed the world and we wish everyone good health and peace as we all adapt. So many people are helping others in this challenging time and we are thankful. Here is a brief example of how Jackie Shay has been helping others transition to remote teaching as our university has had to shut down most operations. Thanks, Jackie, and thanks to all who are helping out in so many ways.

Congratulations to Brandon Hendrickson on advancing to candidacy in his PhD program!

A book chapter authored by Jorge Montiel on diversity and distribution patterns of microbial communities in vernal pools has been published. Read a draft here: Montiel et al. 2019

Molly Stephens is the new Associate Director of the UC Merced National Reserve System. In this new position for the campus, Dr. Stephens will be lending her vision and expertise to help further plan, develop, and manage UCM’s reserves, including the Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve, the Yosemite and Sequoia Field Stations, and SCICON. We are very fortunate and excited have Molly back at UCM!

Jackie Shay chaired and presented for a session (Plant Biotic Interactions) at the Northern California Botanists Symposium. All talks were recorded and can be viewed here.

Fall 2019

Congratulations to Lillie Pennington for being awarded a Mildred E. Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant for her research on adaptive potential of plants to historic drought!

Listen to a new podcast on Drought in California at RadioBio that features some of our work with monkeyflowers.

An exciting initiative, the California Conservation Genomics Project, has just been funded by the state! This initiative led by UCLA and involving all UCs will use the latest genomic tools to inform future conservation plans.  Read the story.

Summer 2019

Read a story covering Erin Dickman and Lillie Pennington’s findings that Sierran monkeyflowers may have adapted rapidly to the historic California drought of 2011-2017.

A new article by Jay discussing how biological adaptation can be viewed holistically is now available as part of a special issue: Species in the Age of Discordance.

Plans are being made to build a research center for our UCM Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve. Read the story and learn a bit about the reserve here.

Jay has been granted tenure! Many thanks to the UC Merced Department of Life and Environmental Sciences, the School of Natural Sciences, and the University in general for tremendous support and for an amazing journey.

Spring 2019

Congratulations to recent graduates, Mimi Pomephimkham (BS) and Abel Campos-Melendez (BS)!

We bid a fond farewell and congratulations to Dr. Dannise Ruiz Ramos, who is beginning a research position with the USGS.

Congratulations to Lillie Pennington and Daniel Toews on advancing to candidacy in their PhD programs!

A paper based on experiments by Erin Dickman and Lillie Pennington showing evidence for rapid adaptation to historic California drought in Sierran monkeyflowers has been published at Evolutionary Applications.

We bid a fond farewell and congratulations to Dr. Molly Stephens, who is beginning an analyst position with Mariposa County.

Congratulations to Jackie Shay and Lillie Pennington for winning 1st and 2nd place, respectively, for research posters at the Northern California Botanists Symposium!

Fall 2018

Congratulations to recent graduate, Sunshine Lopez (BS)!

Congratulations to Jorge Montiel for winning a California Native Plant Society Student Research Grant!

Join us at the Northern California Botanists Symposium in Chico in January 2019.

A perspective paper on how species adapt (and fail to adapt) has been accepted and is soon to be published as part of a special issue at the journal Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology.

Congratulations to Jackie Shay on advancing to candidacy in her PhD program!

Summer 2018

We will be attending/presenting research at the Evolution Meetings in Montpellier. Hope to see you there.

We will be attending/presenting research at the Ecological Society Meeting in New Orleans. Hope to see you there.

Spring 2018

Congratulations to Jorge Montiel on advancing to candidacy in his PhD program!

Join us at the AquAlliance Vernal Pools Conference in Chico in April 2018.

Congratulations to Lillie Pennington on receiving an honorable mention from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program!

Fall 2017

Women from our lab, Jackie Shay, Lillie Pennington, and Kimberly Rodriguez were featured in a UC Merced video!

A review of ours about how species come to expand their ability to use resources (i.e., niche breadth evolution) will be published in this year’s volume of Annual Reviews in Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics.

Summer 2017

We will be attending/presenting research at the Evolution Meetings. Hope to see you there.

A paper first-authored by Megan Hirst that tests whether rare plant species can tolerate the same range of environments as widespread species has been published in the journal Ecology.

Spring 2017

Brandon Hendrickson and Lillie Pennington will be joining our group as graduate students in Fall 2017.  Welcome!

We had a good time “bioblitzing” for environmental DNA on the Vernal Pools Grassland Reserve.  See story.

We received a Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units (CESU) agreement grant with the Bureau of Reclamation and the USFWS entitled, “Genetic investigation of listed vernal pool plants and their communities in Merced County.

Dannise Ruiz-Ramos has joined the lab as a postdoctoral fellow through the UC Conservation Genomics Consortium and will be spearheading our CALeDNA project to study eDNA in vernal pool ecosystems and to sequence the Colusa grass genome, a rare grass found only in vernal pools.

Fall 2016

Join us at the Northern California Botanists Symposium in Chico in January 2017.

Erin Dickman has graduated with her Master’s degree! Congratulations!

See a news story featuring Yazmin Lommel related to our collaboration with Yosemite National Park to better understand the giant sequoia seedling niche.

Some of us will be attending/presenting research at the Sequoia and Kings Canyon Science Symposium. Hope to see you there.

We enjoyed a few weeks of writing and analysis fun with Visiting Scientist, Rachel Slatyer.

Join us at the Species in the Age of Discordance conference in Salt Lake City in March 2017.

Summer 2016
First greenhouses are arriving at UC Merced soon!  Read more.
A study first-authored by Megan Hirst on population variation in Australian alpine daisies has been published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.
Jackie Shay will be joining our group as a graduate student in Fall 2016.  Welcome!

Spring 2016
We were awarded a grant from DOE’s Joint Genome Institute Community Science Program in collaboration with Mark Sistrom and Carolin Frank to study the effects of drought stress on the monkeyflower microbiome.
The UC Merced Phenology Project has launched!  Congratulations to the Yosemite Leadership Program fellows, including our own Jenna Heckel.

Our lab is collaborating in the newly awarded UC Catalyst Grant to develop new strategies and solutions in conservation genomics. Read more.

A paper of ours revealing patterns of gene flow and genetic variation across the species range of a specialized Sierran monkeyflower has been published in Molecular Ecology. Read more.
A paper of ours on local and geographic plant population limits has just been published as part of a special issue on Evolutionary Insights from Studies of Geographic Variation in American Journal of Botany. Read more. And more.
Fall 2015
We received an NSF IOS grant entitled, “Mechanisms of malleability and resilience of flowering responses to current and future variability in seasonal cues in a geographically-widespread species,” in collaboration with Ben Blackman, Nic Kooyers, and Daniel Runcie.
Congratulations to Molly Stephens on a grant from the Yosemite Conservancy to study the giant sequoia seedling niche in collaboration with Yosemite NP.
Jorge Montiel has joined the lab as a graduate student.  Welcome!
We bid a fond farewell to Melissa Anderson who did an awesome job on her REU project on high-elevation monkeyflower pollination. Cheers!
Summer 2015
Melissa Anderson has joined us for her summer Yosemite research experience for undergrads (REU).  Welcome!
The book, “Biodiversity in a Changing Climate,” in which we have a chapter on evolutionary considerations for conservation with climate change was published this June.
Spring 2015
Daniel Toews will be joining our group as a graduate student in Fall 2015.  Welcome!
Congratulations to Erin Babich for receiving a VESR Grad Student Grant and a UC Merced Natural Reserve System Scholarship!
Fall 2014

We welcome Molly Stephens to the lab as a Project Scientist!

Summer 2014
A study led by Katie Ferris providing clues to the evolution of new species in monkeyflowers has been published at Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Read more.
Farewell to our 2014 summer REU students Lillie and Laurel. Both had exemplary presentations and made great contributions to the scientific community (along with their fellow REU accomplices). We all were impressed by their significant accomplishments in a mere ten week experience. We wish them the best of luck at their home institutes, but will miss them dearly!
Spring 2014 – Our lab begins; a brief article.