Doctor Collin Ahrens

Dr Collin AhrensCollin Ahrens joined the HIE in 2016 as a research fellow in Plant Ecological Genomics. His current interests lie in understanding the capacity of species in natural populations to respond to changing environmental conditions. Simply, understanding past evolutionary responses will allow us to better predict future responses to environmental change. He is using Next Generation Sequencing and phenotyping techniques to investigate the local adaptation and evolution of plants by understanding the interplay between genotype, phenotype, and environment. Are the phenotypic differences found within plant species a product of plasticity from high amounts of genetic variation or are phenotypic differences locally adapted to environmental conditions? Surely, the answers are different among species, and the outcomes of this research will elucidate patterns of selective signatures and evolution that could be beneficial for conservation practitioners, ecologists, and evolutionary biologists.

Previously, at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, he developed and implemented microsatellite markers and Next Generation Sequencing techniques for four grassland species (Senecio macrocarpus, Comesperma polygaloides, Ptilotus macrocephalus, and Diuris basaltica) to understand current population structure. These outcomes have markedly improved conservation strategies for these rare species that live within the endangered vegetation communities of the Victorian Volcanic Plain.

He completed his doctoral work in 2011 at the University of Connecticut, where he focused on elucidating the possible risk associated with the escape of genetically engineered Agrostis stolonifera into feral populations. The goal of this work was to quantify past gene flow from A. stolonifera cultivars to feral populations in close proximity to golf courses in order to predict future gene flow and to quantify the long-term effects of the transgene within feral populations. This project was highly interdisciplinary as he used a combination of glasshouse experiments, experimental plots, GIS, and DNA technologies to investigate weedy Agrostis species in the northeastern United States.

Awards and Recognition

  • Helen McLellan Research Grant, 2014.
  • Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship Award, 2010.
  • USDA Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grant, 2008.
  • Center for Environmental Science and Engineering Multidisciplinary Award, 2007.

Selected Publications

Ahrens CW, Byrne M, Rymer PD, (2019) 'Standing genomic variation within coding and regulatory regions contributes to the adaptive capacity to climate in a foundation tree species', Molecular Ecology, vol.28, no.10, pp 2502-2516

Ahrens CW, Mazanec RA, Paap T, Ruthrof KX, Challis A, Hardy G, Byrne M, Tissue DT, Rymer PD, (2019) 'Adaptive variation for growth and resistance to a novel pathogen along climatic gradients in a foundation tree', Evolutionary Applications, vol.12, no.6, pp 1178-1190

Miller AD, Hoffmann AA, Tan MH, Young M, Ahrens C, Cocomazzo M, Rattray A, Ierodiaconou DA, Treml E, Sherman CDH, (2019) 'Local and regional scale habitat heterogeneity contribute to genetic adaptation in a commercially important marine mollusc (Haliotis rubra) from southeastern Australia', Molecular Ecology, vol.28, no.12, pp 3053-3072

Ahrens CW, Rymer PD, Stow A, Bragg J, Dillon S, Umbers KDL, Dudaniec RY, (2018) 'The search for loci under selection: trends, biases and progress', Molecular Ecology, vol.27, no.6, pp 1342-1356

Ahrens CW, Supple MA, Aitken NC, Cantrill DJ, Borevitz JO, James EA, (2017) 'Genomic diversity guides conservation strategies among rare terrestrial orchid species when taxonomy remains uncertain', Annals of Botany, vol.119, no.8, pp 1267-1277

Aspinwall MJ, Varhammar A, Blackman CJ, Tjoelker MG, Ahrens C, Byrne M, Tissue DT, Rymer PD, (2017) 'Adaptation and acclimation both influence photosynthetic and respiratory temperature responses in Corymbia calophylla', Tree Physiology, vol.37, no.8, pp 1095-1112

Ahrens C, James EA, (2016) 'Conserving the small milkwort, Comesperma polygaloides, a vulnerable subshrub in a fragmented landscape', Conservation Genetics, vol.17, no.4, pp 891-901

Ahrens C, James EA, (2016) 'Genetic variation and regional structure in a changing environment influence our conservation approach for Ptilotus macrocephalus (Amaranthaceae)', Journal of Heredity, vol.107, pp 238-247

Ahrens C, James EA, (2015) 'Range-wide genetic analysis reveals limited structure and suggests asexual patterns in the rare forb Senecio macrocarpus', Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, vol.115, pp 256-269

Ahrens C, Meyer T, Auer C, (2014) 'Distribution models for Panicum virgatum (Poaceae) reveal an expanded range in present and future climate regimes in the northeastern United States', American Journal of Botany, vol.101, pp 1886-1894

Ahrens CW, James EA, (2014) 'Characterization of 13 microsatellite markers for Diuris basaltica (Orchidaceae) and related species', Applications in Plant Sciences, vol.2, no.1, e 1300069

Ahrens CW, James EA, (2014) 'Isolation and characterization of 12 microsatellite markers for the vulnerable subshrub Comesperma polygaloides (Polygalaceae)', Conservation Genetics Resources, vol.6, pp 967-968

Ahrens CW, James EA, (2013) 'Characterization of microsatellite markers for the vulnerable grassland forb Senecio macrocarpus (Asteraceae)', Applications in Plant Sciences, vol.1, no.11, e 1300041

Ahrens C, Auer C, (2012) 'Annual glyphosate treatments alter bentgrass growth, survivorship, and plant community species composition', PLoS One, vol.7, no.12, e50643

Ahrens C, Auer C, (2012) 'Genetic relationship between cultivated and feral creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera) in a Cultural Landscape', Weed Science, vol.60, pp 583-588

Ahrens C, Chung J, Meyer T,  Auer C, (2011) 'Agrostis (bentgrass) distribution survey and habitat suitability map support ecological risk assessment in cultural landscapes', Weed Science, vol.59, pp 145-154. (Cover Article)

Ahrens C, Ecker G, Auer C, (2011) 'The intersection of ecological risk assessment and plant communities: an analysis of Agrostis and Panicum species in the northeastern US', Plant Ecology, vol.212, pp 1629-1642