Quote of the Month

"If a man has learnt to know a thing in itself, and in its relation to surrounding phenomena, he has got from a University what it is its proper duty to teach." - Thomas Carlyle (1866).


Welcome to the Eckert Lab located in the Department of Biology at Virginia Commonwealth University. We are a plant evolutionary genomics lab. Research topics range from the dissection of adaptive plant phenotypes into their genetic components to inferences of genome-wide patterns of polymorphism, divergence and natural selection. Current focal points of research are:

Genetic Architecture of Adaptation

How do woody plants adapt to their environments? What are the genes that facilitate this process? How are these genes organized within the genomes of woody plants? We try to answer these questions using a variety of approaches ranging from population genetic surveys of natural populations to association genetic dissection of complex phenotypes. The unifying theme underlying all of these approaches is the discovery of the genetic basis of adaptive plant phenotypes.

Statistical Methods and Adaptation

Standing patterns of genetic diversity result from the interplay of several population genetic processes, such as natural selection, genetic drift and migration. When methods developed to identify these processes are used in a hypothesis testing framework, however, they do not often exhaustively divide the sample space into mutually incompatible outcomes; so that rejection of one hypothesis, a null hypothesis for example, does not necessarily imply that the alternative is true or even likely. The reason is that several different processes can individually, as well as jointly, result in the same patterns. It is prudent, therefore, to utilize a range of methods that each examines different aspects of the standing patterns of genetic diversity. Recently we have begun collaborating with Rodney Dyer and his lab to examine the use of his measure of conditional genetic covariance, in combination with high-throughput SNP genotyping data, to infer patterns of natural selection across genomes.

Phylogeography and Adaptation

The woody plant flora of North America is composed of a fascinating diversity of species. We use a variety of phylogeographic, biogeographic and phylogenetic approaches with which to understand the origin and diversification of species comprising this flora. Our approaches tend to be hypothesis driven where multiple competing hypotheses are proposed and the best one(s) is/are chosen using some form of statistical model selection. This is also important because divergence history confounds the ability to identify adaptive genetic variants.

Below you will find news and events. Links to specific lab personnel are listed on the left. You can find personal webpages by clicking on the picture of the person.

News in the Lab

There is always something exciting happening in the Eckert lab.

05-Apr-2017: Brandon Lind has published his first paper about the polygenic basis of local adaptation across populations of whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) located in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Check it out at Molecular Ecology.

01-Apr-2017: Dr. Justin Bagley has started as the newest postdoctoral scholar in the Eckert lab.

27-Nov-2016: Madison Glackin, an undergraduate researcher in the lab, recently was selected to participate in the Panama Avian Field Ecology Study Abroad course at VCU. Congratulations, Madison!

Fall is in the Air (08/26/2013)

3.4 MY old pine
After a wonderful summer with my beautiful daughters (see pictures), I am back into the swing of things in Richmond. The Fall semester of 2013 has started off with a growing lab. Two new members have joined the Eckert lab: Chris Friedline (NSF Postdoctoral Fellow) and Ethan Harwood (VCU M.S. student). Chris will be tackling questions related to fire adaptation among southeastern pines. He obtained three years worth of funding through a NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology. Ethan will be mapping quantitative trait loci related to water use efficiency for foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana). This work is occurring in collaboration with Dr. Patricia Maloney and utilizes a large-scale linkage map for this species currently being generated from next-generation sequencing data.
Sunset at Glacier Point
Sunset at Glacier Point
In other news, Brandon Lind has been working hard to finish up his field sampling at the Teakettle Experimental Forest. He also managed to collect a few foxtail pine samples on recent hike across the Sierra Nevada crest.  These samples will help assess local allele frequencies for QTLs discovered by Ethan. In addition, more than a few papers are finally being finished, so please stay tuned for a whole slew of published research from this lab.