Botanical Conservation

As sessile organisms, individual plants and fungi are especially vulnerable to climate change. When conditions get too hot or dry, successful offspring have to find new places or ways of living. Their adaptations, as organisms that drive the carbon cycle, can feedback to the climate system. The history of life and climate records several dramatic episodes. Every mass extinction has been associated with rapid climate change. Some followed important physiological innovations by plants or microbes; all transformed life by pruning away broad swaths of diversity. The current mass extinction is unique because the adaptation driving change did not occur in a tree or microbe, but rather, among the diverse cultures of a peculiar ape (that’s us). Nevertheless, we can expect the history of life’s tumultuous relationship with climate to inform the future.

My main areas of research interests in botanical conservation use tools from evolutionary biology to understand how the history of biodiversity change with climate can inform the future of conservation

Functional Traits

Predicting how life will respond to climate change today requires understanding how life changed with climate in the past. Biological change ultimately reflects evolution. My research in evolutionary biology examines how key plant traits change with climate.


Specialized fungi form a biological marketplace inside most roots called mycorrhizae where the fungus exchanges key soil nutrients for plant sugars so effectively that they influence global exchanges between land, sea and air. I use comparative methods to examine how mycorrhizal associations evolve and the consequences for habitats.

Life History

Plant population responses to environmental change depend on when and how they reproduce.  I collaborate with colleagues to examine how alternative life histories have evolved among related plants and the consequences for conservation.

Relevant Publications & Grants

Functional Traits

Oberle, B., J.B. Beck, R.A. Montgomery and E.E. Esselman. 2012. A morphologically intergrading population facilitates chloroplast introgression from diploid to tetraploid Dodecatheon (Primulaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 168: 91-100.

Oberle, B., and E.E. Esselman. 2011. Fruit and seed characters help distinguish southern Illinois Dodecatheon (Primulaceae) species and highlight unusual intergrading populations. Rhodora 113: 280-299.

Oberle, B. and B. A. Schaal. 2011. Historical responses to climate change highlight contemporary threats to diversity in Dodecatheon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 108: 5655-5660.

“Dissertation Research: Tempo and Mode in Adaptation to Climate: Insights from the Phylogeny and Phylogeography of the Plant Genus Dodecatheon (Primulaceae)” U.S. National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant. B. Oberle (co-PI): $11,987


Maherali, H., B. Oberle, P.F. Stevens, W. Cornwell, D.J. McGlinn. 2016. Mutualism persistence and abandonment during the evolutionary history of the mycorrhizal symbiosis. The American Naturalist 188:5 E000-E000 doi 10.1086/688675

“Evolutionary and ecological consequences of mycorrhizal states in plants”, National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). B. Oberle (Short-Term Visitor Fellowship): $1,000.

Life History

Bodine, E. N., C. Bush, A. Capaldi, S. Crowell, R. Jones, B. Oberle, B. Sidoti, T. Cooper. Predicting potential recovery of the endangered long-lived epiphytic bromeliad Tillandsia utriculata: an agent-based modeling approach In prep. Natural Resource Modelling

Meyer, E. M., J. F. Swift, B. Bassuner, S. A. Smith, E. S. Menges, B. Oberle, and C. E. Edwards. The trajectory of the mating system and factors affecting selfing and outcrossing rates in an amphicarpic species with a mixed mating system, Polygala lewtonii. In prep. Molecular Ecology.