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Landscapes of linalool: scent-mediated diversification of flowers and moths across western North America

We commonly think of floral scent for its role in attracting pollinators, but it can also be a cue for floral and seed predators. This project integrates chemical ecology and comparative genomics to explore the impact of past selective pressures on current patterns of diversity in non-model organisms: evening primroses, hawkmoths, bees, and micromoths

This project focuses on how chemically-mediated interactions between flowering plants, pollinators, and enemies affect diversification at the population, species, and higher taxonomic levels. Onagraceae (evening primrose family) is one of the most species-rich families of night-blooming plants in North America. Many Onagraceae, particularly species in tribe Onagreae, produce floral scent that likely dictates the primary biotic drivers impacting plant fitness, including legitimate pollinators (hawkmoths, bees) and floral and seed predators (Mompha moths). The same floral characteristics (color, shape, scent) that attract pollinators are also suspected to attract floral antagonists to host plants. Mompha is one such moth genus that specializes on Onagraceae. A thorough survey of these micromoths associated with Onagreae in western North America will result in a more accurate assessment of diversity in this group. Three dimensions of biodiversity will be integrated through studies of (1) floral trait variation, (2) its genetic basis, and (3) their roles in driving patterns of diversity in Onagreae and Mompha. The identification of “hot” and “cold” spots of selection will provide a test of the role of scent in the creation and maintenance of biodiversity across landscapes and time.