Jessica Budke, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and director of the UT Herbarium, received a highly-competitive Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This multi-year, $1.4 million grant will support Budke’s work on parent-offspring conflict in mosses.
“The conflict is a striking paradox where parents have to balance limited resources between investing in their offspring and reserving resources for their own survival and future reproduction,” Budke said. “Moss plants are an ideal system to study this conflict since their offspring remain physically attached and nutritionally dependent on the parent plant throughout their lifespan.”
Using field-collected plants and natural history specimens, Budke will use an innovative and integrated research approach that incorporates comparative analysis of function morphology, physiology, and evolution to explore and understand the processes that have led to diverse adaptations for regulating parental-offspring resource allocation across species.
During an engaging May-term course that will be offered multiple years at UT, students will be in the field, laboratory, and behind the scenes of natural history collections, such as the UT Herbarium, where field collections and specimen-based research will be essential components of the class.
“Undergraduate students will also have the opportunity to work with graduate students and postdocs and see the stages of an early-career scientist, which could get them excited about joining the lab and pursuing a career in science,” Budke said.
Budke and her students will use the experiences and data from the course to build educational modules and activities for UT programs at natural history museums and local public botanical gardens. They will host sessions about mosses and specimen research for students grades 3-12 and will build an educational module for the UT Biology in a Box program to engage kids with natural history collections and moss biology.
This research will lay the groundwork for future biodiversity studies in mosses and improve the body of knowledge and understanding of parent-offspring relationships broadly across plants.
“We are trying to think about this in terms of how plants live in the world,” Budke said. “Evolution can occur over long periods of time, but with this research, we are zooming in on a single generation to understand how parents influence their offspring, specifically how they provide the resources they need to survive, thrive, and produce the next generation of mosses.”
The CAREER award is NSF’s most prestigious accolade for early-career faculty members and recognizes individuals “who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”
UT students interested in research opportunities with this grant should contact Jessica Budke to learn more.