In collaboration with the National Park Services (NPS), we determined the origin and the genetic diversity of Shaw’s agave (Agave shawii shawii) at southern California natural preserve. This endangered subspecies only grows along the coastlines of California and northwestern Mexico and have suffered habitat loss and natural erosion. To recover agave’s local natural population, the NPS transplanted young plants from an evolutionarily unknown origin in the early 1970s. Since genetic diversity promotes resilience to sudden environmental challenges, robust agave genomes could sustain evolutionary selective pressure more effectively. Microbes supply plants with nutrients, and transplanting may compromise the delicate balance between the plant and its microbiome. We sequenced agave’s DNA barcoding markers and related microbial community, assembling phylogenetic maps within and between three US and two Mexican populations. We chemically characterized soil and quantified the enzymatic activity and genetic diversity of agave’s soil microbes using 16S rRNA sequencing.
This research was taught in our Summer 2019 Immersion Session and the published manuscript in Ecology and Evolution Journal featuring our high school program participant.