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Key Laboratory for Plant Diversity and Biogeography of East Asia
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Sergei Volis' Group
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Location: Home > Key Laboratory for Plant Diversity and Biogeography of East Asia > Sergei Volis' Group > Professor Sergei Volis
Professor Sergei Volis



    Professor Sergei Volis

    Sergei Volis, Professor of Ecology. My lab uses ecological, phylogenetic and population genetics techniques to examine the contribution of historical processes, natural selection and gene flow to genetic, morphological and ecological diversification within and among species. Especially we are interested in intraspecific diversification, which often is an intermediate step in the speciation process, and in application of our findings to conservation of endangered plant species

    More Information:

    Google Scholar:http://scholar.google.co.il/citations?user=NlPv9HgAAAAJ&hl=en

    Research Gate:https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sergei_Volis?ev=prf_highl

    Email: volis@mail.kib.ac.cn 


     Research Interests


    My primary research interest is a study of adaptation of wild populations to their natural environments. This discipline focuses on evolutionary process within a species at the context of natural populations and explores interplay between natural selection and genetics. Both, genetics and ecology are important for understanding adaptive evolution and speciation. Genetics is crucial because direction and rate of selection depend on type and pattern of genetic variation. Ecology is crucial because natural selection occurs when individuals' interactions with biotic/abiotic environment cause their differential fitness. How natural selection, through ecological interactions of the organisms with their environments, leads to adaptive evolution and speciation is the underlying question at the core of my research. Answering this requires understanding the direct and causal relationships between genetic variation, ecological interactions and adaptation, as well as the constraining role of environment on evolution.

    Another research direction is an integration of information on morphological and ecological variation within plant species with historical patterns of dispersal and migration that are inferred from spatially structured DNA variation.

    The third research field is conservation biology. I am interested in incorporation of metapopulation structure and dynamics as well as genetic variation into population viability analysis and in development of conservation strategy that brings together ex situ and in situ approaches.

     In my group research projects are typically interdisciplinary and connect several fields, such as population demographic processes, patterns of gene flow, metapopulation dynamics and analysis of genetic variation to understand evolutionary processes that lead to speciation. In our research we use a diverse array of methods and approaches of ecological fieldwork, greenhouse experiments and fingerprinting with DNA markers.


        Major topics


  ·Determination of the relative role of natural selection, gene flow and historical processes in speciation by combining experimental, observational and molecular data

  Phylogeography, defined as a study of geographic distributions of genealogical lineages within and among closely related species, is based on analysis of variation in genetic markers having phylogenetic signal. However, explanation of the pattern revealed by phylogeography requires additional approaches. We are using common garden experiments under natural and manipulated conditions, crossbreeding and ecological niche modeling, to reveal a contribution of selective vs. non-selective processes in observed phylogeographic patterns.

  ·Study of life history trade-offs and evolutionary pathways

  Traditionally the generalizations about life history and other traits as a result of common evolutionary pathway are done by interspecific and intergeneric comparisons. We are using a new comparative approach in which both species and populations are sampled in parallel across environments to reveal correlated patterns of life history variation in plants. A rational for this approach is that if specific traits or their combinations recur in otherwise similar but taxonomically unrelated plants that coexist in a given habitat, on one hand, and if these plants are locally adapted to the above habitat, on the other hand, it is most likely that the studied traits and their combinations are shaped by natural selection. Two potential avenues for future research based on this approach include: 1) identification and attributing this variation to particular genes and genetic networks common to several studied species; and 2) usage of experimental mesocosms where selection on traits of interest are measured under manipulated environmental conditions. 

  ·Integration of new and existing approaches to conservation of endangered plant species

  Conservation of wild plants has a major focus on preserving viability of existing populations through in situ programs. However, as natural habitat rapidly disappears and climate patterns change, the importance of ex situ conservation and plant relocations instantly grows. A conceptually sound integral approach to plant conservation should embrace both, in situ and ex situ conservation. Success of ex situ conservation program depends on its ability to adequately represent the natural genetic diversity of species during storage and to preserve the utility of stored germplasm in future recovery efforts. Therefore, a long-standing challenge is to develop ex situ conservation strategy that would prevent or minimize recognized genetic and demographic threats associated with creation of artificial populations of plants (i.e. collections of accessions or provenances) and be efficient in providing material for in situ recovery actions. Recently, I introduced a detailed approach for conservation of endangered species that integrates ex situ and in situ conservation as complementary and that can be used as a tool for finding efficient solutions to particular conservation tasks (Volis and Blecher 2010 Biod. & Cons.). For species undergoing rapid loss of native habitat due to anthropogenic disturbance and climate change, and which are not preserved in nature reserves, the only viable in situ conservation strategy is relocation, i.e. introduction of the species into seemingly suitable protected areas with no past history of its existence. However, as reported in the literature, the relocation success often is low. I propose that the determination of optimal relocation sites should be based on a combination of modelling the species ecological niche and experimental testing of relocation location and response. The experimental test-relocation, performed in a limited number of sites, will allow quantification of the population parameters and response functions needed for predictive modelling, and elucidate the major environmental determinants of relocation success (Volis et al. 2011 J. Appl. Ecol.). Efficient relocation, in addition to identification of optimal relocation sites, requires information about several population-level parameters such as the effective population size and the importance and distance of gene flow via seeds and pollen. This information can be obtained by analysis of the extent and structure of genetic variation. The genetic relationships among populations, detected by molecular markers, can reveal the role of gene flow in interconnecting genetically distinct populations, and the relative importance of genetic drift. Population genetic differentiation can be used to identify the most suited populations for relocation purposes. Finally, information on extent and structure of genetic variation, population demography and spatial structure of suitable for relocation environment can be used to model and predict the optimal relocation design for preserving both (meta)population viability and genetic variation (Volis et al. 2005 Cons. Biol.).

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