Ecological transitions during the evolution of C4 photosynthesis

Dr. Lundgren is currently a postdoctorate research associate in the Department of Animal and Plant Science at the University of Sheffield, studying the eco-physiology of C4 photosynthesis evolution in grasses. Her PhD and postdoctorate work highlights the facilitating role that a rare mode of photosynthesis (i.e., C2 photosynthesis or the photorespiratory CO2 pump) plays in the evolution of the complex, but ultra-efficient C4 photosynthetic pathway. Importantly, she identified this rare C2 physiology in the grass Alloteropsis semialata for the first time, which, in addition to the documented C3 and C4 phenotypes within this species, solidified this system as the most physiologically diverse species on record and an unrivalled model in the study of C4 photosynthesis evolution. Using the A. semialata system, she went on to document the differing minimum anatomical modifications needed to achieve weak versus optimized C4 anatomy, key information needed to engineer C4 photosynthesis into C3 crops. She then disrupted decades of assumptions about the differing ecology of C3 and C4 plants when she showed that the evolution of C4 photosynthesis does not initially shift the ecological niche, as traditionally thought, but instead rapidly expands it to encompass the ancestral niche. After publishing these paradigm-shifting findings in Ecology Letters, she later demonstrated that these niche shifts actually occur prior to the emergence of this complex physiology, when lineages are within the evolutionary intermediate C3-C4 state- thus establishing the vital ecological role that these intermediate phenotypes play in C4 evolution for the first time.

Her future research interests include the ecophysiology and agricultural applications of C3-C4 intermediate photosynthetic states and specifically how the rare C2 mode of photosynthesis can be exploited to improve crop efficiency and achieve food security in the face of a more unpredictable climate.

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