1. Do Aiptasia vary in bleaching tolerance? To what extent is natural variation in bleaching tolerance explained by host genotype?
One of my current projects involves subjecting Aiptasia from different genetic lineages to various types of bleaching stress. By characterizing the bleaching tolerance of these strains under a variety of conditions, I hope to determine if some host-symbiont partnerships are generally ‘weaker’ than others, or if there may be trade-offs associated with tolerance to different stressors.
2. How much do Aiptasia genomes vary? Can we identify genetic targets of selection using genome-wide patterns of polymorphism?
Another project involves low-coverage genome sequencing (or ‘genome skimming’) of 10 Aiptasia strains, two of which have been studied in the laboratory for more than 30 years! I am investigating patterns of intraspecific polymorphism in sliding windows across the Aiptasia genome, looking for specific genes that may be driving unusual signatures of genome-wide variation.
3. How do natural Aiptasia populations respond to environmental variability? Do Aiptasia from more variable environments host more diverse symbiont assemblages or exhibit genetic evidence of local adaptation?
This summer I have the fantastic opportunity to study Aiptasia populations from both sides of the Isthmus of Panama. By sampling anemones from regions that have been monitored for many years by scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (data publicly available from STRI, here), I hope to compare natural Aiptasia populations from 4 regions characterized by different thermal variation regimes.