Undergraduate Research – University of Cape Town
Role of environmental gradients in shaping life histories
As an undergraduate, I was involved in a research project that used a common garden experiment to quantify intrinsic variation in life history traits amongst populations of Ehrharta calycina, a grass species which varies from perennial to annual across its range. We found that both climate and substrate influence the evolution of an annual life history, with populations from the drier, nutrient rich northern part of the E. calycina range growing faster and flowering earlier than populations from the wetter, more nutrient poor southern region. This research was subsequently published.
Role of environmental gradients in shaping leaf size variation
I also examined the role of environment in driving divergence in leaf size and shape in the genus Jamesbrittenia. In addition to modelling leaf trait responses to environmental gradients, I also compared rates of transpirational water loss among plants with different leaf sizes and shapes. I found that, at the individual leaf level, plants with smaller leaves lost the most water (as expected). But, when I accounted for the total leaf area of the plants, larger-leaved species were actually losing more water than smaller-leaves species.