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Researchers receive $210,000 grant from the National Science Foundation

VCU Rice Center Researcher Dr. Rodney Dyer, along with his co-PI Dr. David Chan from the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, have recently been awarded a $210,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for their work on pollen dispersal. This is an especially exciting grant for the VCU Rice Center since all the research is being conducted on site. The title of the grant is "Unifying the Two-Generation Analysis to Pollen Movement: Analysis of Insect Mediated Pollen Dispersal in the Understory Tree Cornus florida L."


Abstract

The movement of genes from one generation to the next is the critical process that maintains the genetic connectivity of populations. For most plant species, pollen is the most pervasive vector of gene exchange and is typically transmitted by either wind or via a dispersal vector such as insects or animals. As empirical data on landscape-level gene movement continues to accumulate, it is becoming apparent that insect mediated dispersal produces significantly different spatial distribution patterns of genetic structure than species that use wind as their primary dispersal mechanism. This project is focused on the examination of insect-mediated dispersal using the understory tree, Cornus florida (L; flowering dogwood). We will be using both mathematical models and genetic analyses of natural populations to understand the spatial patterning of insect-mediated pollination and investigate the ecological factors that may influence this process.

Combining mathematical models that are sensitive to the mode of dispersal with genetic data that can identify the spatial movement of genes provides unique insights into this most critical process. Moreover, placing these analyses within an ecological context allows us to understand how the environment influences the behavior of insects that move plant genes across the landscape. The results of this research will ultimately allow us to design more effective management and conservation strategies for natural populations.