Eric Bishop Von Wettberg, PhD

Eric Bishop von Wettberg


Assistant Professor of Population Genetics
Florida International University, Department of Biological Sciences
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Center for Tropical Plant Conservation
Phone: 305-665-2844 x3518

My main research interest is on the consequences of population bottlenecks during domestication and breeding and habitat destruction, degradation, and fragmentation.  We use the tools of genomics and evolutionary ecology to preserve diversity of crop wild relatives and endangered species, and to understand adaptation to particular habitats.  Rooted into the strong tradition and commitment of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden for international collaboration and conservation, my studies have a strong field component that both test material under realistic conditions and develop strong relationships with developing world scientists in places such as Turkey, Ethiopia, India, and the Caribbean. Current work in my lab centers on the legume crops of the semi-arid tropics such as chickpea and pigeonpea, and on the endangered plants of Florida.  My laboratory is located at the University Park campus of Florida International University, while my students work at FIU, Fairchild, and around the world.

My laboratory

Google Scholar Profile

Education and Training

HHMI Faculty Scholar: 2012-2013

Visiting Research Fellow, Ecole Nacional Superieure Agronomique de Toulouse

NIH NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Population Biology, University of California at Davis, Davis (2007-2009)

Ph.D. Ecology and Evolution, Brown University (2007)

Dissertation: “Local adaptation and phenotypic plasticity in shade avoidance responses in Impatiens capensis”

Fulbright Fellow, Danish Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Copenhagen, Denmark (1999-2000)

B.A. in Biology, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore Pennsylvania (1999)

Recent Publications:

Castro, B. M., Moriuchi, K. S., Friesen, M. L., Badri, M., Nuzhdin, S. V., Strauss, S. Y., Cook, D. R., von Wettberg, EJ. (2013), Parental environments and interactions with conspecifics alter salinity tolerance of offspring in the annual Medicago truncatula. Journal of Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.12125

Kassa, M.T., Penmetsa, R.V., Carrasquilla-Garcia, N., Sarma, B.K., Datta, S., Upadhyaya, H.D., Varshney, R.K,. von Wetterg, EJ., and Cook, D.R. 2012. Genetic patterns of domestication in pigeonpea (Cajanus cajana (L.) Millsp) and wild Cajanus relatives.  PlosOne, 7(6): e39563. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039563

von Wettberg EJ, Stinchcombe JR, Schmitt J 2012 Early developmental responses modulate later plasticity to phytochrome-mediated cues  PlosOne 7(3): e34121

Huber H, von Wettberg EJ, Aguilera A, Schmitt J 2011 Testing mechanisms and context dependence of costs of plastic shade avoidance responses in Impatiens capensis (Balsaminaceae) American Journal of Botany 98: 1602-1612

Friesen, M.L., Porter, S.S., Stark, S.C., von Wettberg, E.J., Sachs, J., and Martinez-Romero, E. 2011. Microbially mediated funcational plant traits. Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics.  42: 23-46

Turner, T.L., Bourne, E.C., von Wettberg, E.J., Hu, T.L., and Nuzhdin, S.V. 2010. Population resequencing reveals local adaptation of Arabidopsis lyrata to serpentine soils.  Nature Genetics, 43, 260-263.

Friesen, M.L+. and von Wettberg, E.J+ 2010 Adapting genomics to study the ecology and evolution of agricultural systems.  Current Opinion in Plant Biology. 13: 119-125. + Denotes equal contribution to the work

Holdredge, C, von Wettberg, E.J., Bertness, M.B., Silliman, B.R. 2010. Differential nutrient uptake abilities underlie cryptic Phragmites invasion in New England salt marshes. Oikos, 119: 1776-1784.

Mandle, L.M., Warren, D.L., Peterson, A.T., Hoffman, M., Schmitt, J., and von Wettberg, E.J. 2010. Niche expansion in introduced Impatiens walleriana populations (or not) depending on method of analysis.  PlosOne 5(12): e15297. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0015297.

Anten NPR, von Wettberg EJ, Pawlowski M & Huber H. 2009. Interactive effects of spectral shading and mechanical stress on the expression and costs of shade avoidance. American Naturalist 173:241-255.

von Wettberg, E.J. Remington, D.L. and Schmitt, J. 2008. Partitoning adaptation differentiation across a patchy landscape: Shade avoidance traits in Impatiens capensis. Evolution, 62, 654–667.

Selected Recent Grants and Awards

  • MBZ Species Conservation Fund 2011-2012
  • NSF Plant Genome Research Program (2008-2011) Genomics of salinity tolerance in desert Medicago truncatula. PI S. Nuzhdin, UC Davis based lead Co-PI with D. Cook, S Strauss, M. Friesen
  • NSF International Research and Education Planning Grant (2008) Genomics of salinity tolerance in Medicago truncatula in Tunisia. PI S. Nuzhdin, Co-PI with D. Cook, S Strauss, M. Friesen.
  • NIH National Research Service Award (2007-2009) Genomics of Nickel tolerance in Arabidopsis lyrata


  • Evolution
  • Population genetics
  • Introduction to Biological Research
  • Teaching Evolution

Research Themes and Active Research Projects

My research activities focus on understanding adaptation to habitats, and utilizing this information for agricultural improvement and conservation of rare species and habitats.  They link with the 80 year history of research and conservation of Fairchild.

Within these themes currently I have the following three Active Research Projects:

Domestication Genetics of Tropical Crops
During domestication strong population bottlenecks are thought to occur in many crop species due to strong selection on traits that crop plants require to perform well under agricultural conditions such as indehiscent fruits.  These strong bottlenecks can reduce genetic variability and the adaptive potential of crops for marginal or challenging agricultural conditions.  If we can find the genetic basis of domestication traits, we can return adaptive traits to our crops through breeding with wild relatives.  However, germplasm collections of many crop wild realtives are woefully inadequate and grossly undersample the full range of conditions that wild relatives can tolerate.  My lab works with chickpea, pigeonpea, and mangoes to understand the consequences of domestication and the ensuing population bottlenecks, and to expand and preserve wild relative diversity in germplasm collections.


Population genetics of Florida and Caribbean endangered species
Plants from Florida the Caribbean Islands are in the core of the educational, horticulture, and research activities of Fairchild and they are one of the main priorities of my laboratory.  In colonizing Florida from the Caribbean, many of our native plants underwent a severe population bottleneck.  We are examining genetic and morphological consequences of this bottleneck in the tropical species of Florida.  We have a particular focus on Pilosocereus cacti, but have also examined species of PSeudophoenix palms, the miccosuke gooseberry, and partridge peas.  We are keen to expand this work to a broader number of species.

Community genomics of salt tolerance in Medicago truncatula 
In collaboration with colleagues from the University of Southern Californa, UC Davis, and the Center for Biotechnology at Borj Cedria in Tunisa, we have resequenced the genomes of 40 individuals from saline and non-saline habitats in Tunisia, and examined the phenotypes of plants under several saline conditions in the greenhouse and field.   Association mapping will provide candidate genes for salt tolerance in this wild relative of alfalfa, which subsequent mutant analysis will verify for the long-term aim of improving crop salt tolerance.  [link to project website]