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Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) 2003 awards

"Integrated Ecological and Genomic Analysis of Speciation in Mimulus"

Mimulus cardinalis, top and M. lewisii, bottom
The monkeyflowers focused upon by FIBR include Mimulus cardinalis, top, and M. lewisii, bottom.
Photos courtesy Toby Bradshaw (University of Washington) and Douglas Schemske (Michigan State University)
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monkeyflowers, Mimulus guttatus (left) and M. nasutus (right)
To better understand how species develop, biologists will study several types of monkeyflowers, including Mimulus guttatus (left) and M. nasutus (right).
Photos by John Willis (Duke University).
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(Size: 15KB)

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September 2003

Because evolution takes generations, it is difficult to discern how new species arise. Indeed, through conventional approaches, the process was difficult to monitor during a scientist's lifetime.

Now, however, a collaboration of experts in population biology, genetics, ecology and computational biology, brought together through an NSF Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research project, will bring genomics and information systems to bear on the problem. Led by John Willis of Duke University, they will focus on the molecular mechanisms at work in four species of Mimulus, a genus whose members are more commonly known as monkeyflowers.

The genetic analysis will shed light on how ecological isolation, mate choice and incompatibility of genomes can lead to the creation of new species. The researchers will also examine how small differences in habitats and flowering times can prevent different species of the same genus from reproducing at the same place and time, and thereby prevent hybridization that might lead to new species.

Looking closely at one pair of monkeyflower species, they hope to gain insights into the genetic incompatibilities responsible for sterile hybrids, which occur in the wild despite differences in flowering times and habitats. The project will also compare a low-altitude red monkeyflower pollinated by hummingbirds to a high-altitude purple one pollinated by bees to investigate how "pre-mating isolation" caused by such differences hinders interbreeding and affects speciation.

Lead principal investigator (Duke University):
John Willis, (919) 660-7340,

Participating institutions:

  • Duke University (Willis, Fred Dietrich)
  • University of Washington (Toby Bradshaw)
  • Clemson University (Jeffrey Tomkins)
  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Todd Vision)
  • University of Montana (Lila Fishman)
  • Michigan State University (Douglas W. Schemske)

Media contact at Duke: Dennis Meredith,, (919) 681-8054

Total NSF funding, through August 2008: $4,999,979

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The FIBR projects announced today include the following:

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