Vanessa Koelling


I am an evolutionary biologist, with a focus on plant evolutionary genetics. I am particularly interested in how plant mating systems evolve and how plants adapt to new environments and new ecological pressures. To answer specific questions within these broad areas of evolutionary biology, I use the evolutionary model plant, Mimulus guttatus, or the common yellow monkeyflower. M. guttatus is an excellent plant for evolutionary genetic studies because it exhibits extensive morphological and life-history variation, grows in a wide variety of habitats, and can be grown in the field and greenhouse. It also has a sequenced genome and numerous molecular tools can be applied in this system. Even better, it grows throughout the Pacific Northwest, including right here in the Puget Sound region!

Currently, my lab is working on a funded project to examine the role of inbreeding depression in the evolution of self-fertilization in plants. A paradoxically common mating system in plants is self-fertilization. Self-fertilization has evolved many times independently in plants, despite the fact that regular inbreeding results in inbreeding depression. One rarely tested explanation for the evolution of self-fertilization is that deleterious alleles are purged over time due to regular inbreeding. With the help of undergraduate students in my lab, I am testing for the occurrence of purging in populations of M. guttatus using a novel field-based genotyping approach. Future research in my lab will expand on this work, continuing research into the genetics of inbreeding depression and its effect on plant adaptation.

In addition, I consider mentoring undergraduates in research to be a core component of my teaching. I have been fortunate to have wonderful students join my lab, and I look forward to working with more in the future. If you are interested in getting involved in research in my lab, please send me an email!

  Undergraduate researcher Ava Garrison measuring the size of M. guttatus plants
in the University of Puget Sound greenhouse

Undergraduates Dylan Farnsworth and Ava Garrison about to harvest young
M. guttatus plants for DNA extraction