Understanding the genetic basis of ecological and evolutionary processes

Plant Ecological Genetics

Our work aims at understanding the genetic basis of ecological and evolutionary processes. To achieve this goal, we combine the use of molecular methods with experiments in common gardens and in the field. Our main study organisms include the White and Red Campion (Silene latifolia and S. dioica), the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana, wild tomatoes (Solanum spp.) and grasses with their fungal symbionts.

Using the closely related species S. latifolia and S. dioica we investigate the ecological factors that contribute to reproductive isolation, the genomic composition of hybrids, and the ecological and evolutionary consequences of gene introgression. Of particular interest in this research is the role of sex chromosomes in adaptation and reproductive isolation.

With the model species Arabidopsis thaliana we investigate how plants adapt to extreme and changing environmental conditions in the Swiss Alps.


Recent Publications

  • Capacity of soil bacteria to reach the phyllosphere and convergence of floral communities despite soil microbiota variation
    Massoni, Julien; Bortfeld-Miller, Miriam; Widmer, Alex; Vorholt, Julia A.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America  10.1073/pnas.2100150118  OCT 12 2021
  • Neither connectivity nor genetic diversity matter in the conservation of a rare fern and a moss on insular erratic boulders
    Hepenstrick, Daniel; Zemp, Niklaus; Widmer, Alex; Holderegger, Rolf
    Conservation Genetics 10.1007/s10592-021-01414-6  NOV 2021
  • Introgression is widespread in the radiation of carnivorous Nepenthes pitcher plants
    Scharmann, Mathias; Wistuba, Andreas; Widmer, Alex
    Molecular Phylogenetics And Evolution 10.1016/j.ympev.2021.107214  OCT 2021
  • Developing a monitoring program of genetic diversity: what do stakeholders say?
    Parli, Rea; Lieberherr, Eva; Holderegger, Rolf; Gugerli, Felix; Widmer, Alex; et al.
    Conservation Genetics  10.1007/s10592-021-01379-6  OCT 2021
  • Identifying loci under selection via explicit demographic models
    Luqman, Hirzi; Widmer, Alex; Fior, Simone; Wegmann, Daniel
    Molecular Ecology Resources 10.1111/1755-0998.13415  NOV 2021
  • Dioecy Is Associated with High Genetic Diversity and Adaptation Rates in the Plant Genus Silene
    Muyle, Aline; Martin, Helene; Zemp, Niklaus; Mollion, Maeva; Gallina, Sophie; et al.
    Molecular Biology And Evolution 10.1093/molbev/msaa229  MAR 2021
  • Genomic signatures of convergent adaptation to Alpine environments in three Brassicaceae species
    Rellstab, Christian; Zoller, Stefan; Sailer, Christian; Tedder, Andrew; Gugerli, Felix; Shimizu, Kentaro K; Holderegger, Rolf; Widmer, Alex; Fischer, Martin C
    Molecular Ecology 10.1111/mec.15648 NOV 2020
  • Identification of sex-linked markers in the sexually cryptic coco de mer: are males and females produced in equal proportions?
    Morgan, Emma J.; Kaiser-Bunbury, Christopher N.; Edwards, Peter J.; Scharmann, Mathias; Widmer, Alex; Fleischer-Dogley, Frauke; Kettle, Chris J
    Aob Plants,  DOI: 10.1093/aobpla/plz079  Published: FEB 2020
  • Adaptation to local climate in multi-trait space: evidence from silver fir (Abies alba Mill.) populations across a heterogeneous environment
    Csillery, Katalin; Ovaskainen, Otso; Sperisen, Christoph; Buchmann, Nina; Widmer, Alex; Gugerli, F
    Heredity,  DOI: 10.1038/s41437-019-0240-0  2020
  • Insights into the genetic architecture of sexual dimorphism from an interspecific cross between two diverging Silene (Caryophyllaceae) species
    Baena-Diaz, Fernanda; Zemp, Niklaus; Widmer, Alex
    Molecular Ecology,  DOI: 10.1111/mec.15271 2019
  • Conservation genetics: Linking science with practice
    Holderegger, R; Balkenhol, N; Bolliger, J; Engler, JO; Gugerli, F; Hochkirch, A; Nowak, C; Segelbacher, G; Widmer, A; Zachos, FE
    MOLECULAR ECOLOGY, 10.1111/mec.15202 
  • Variation in growth and defence traits among plant populations at different elevations: Implications for adaptation to climate change
    Buckley, J; Widmer, A; Mescher, MC; De Moraes, CM
    JOURNAL OF ECOLOGY, 107 (5):2478-2492; 10.1111/1365-2745.13171 SEP 2019
  • Low genetic variation is associated with low mutation rate in the giant duckweed (vol 10, 1243, 2019)
    Xu, SQ; Stapley, J; Gablenz, S; Boyer, J; Appenroth, KJ; Sree, KS; Gershenzon, J; Widmer, A; Huber, M
    NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 10 10.1038/s41467-019-09796-5 APR 16 2019 
  • Low genetic variation is associated with low mutation rate in the giant duckweed
    Xu, SQ; Stapley, J; Gablenz, S; Boyer, J; Appenroth, KJ; Sree, KS; Gershenzon, J; Widmer, A; Huber, M
    NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 10 10.1038/s41467-019-09235-5 MAR 20 2019
  • Population genomic evidence for plant glacial survival in Scandinavia
    Westergaard, KB; Zemp, N; Bruederle, LP; Stenoien, HK; Widmer, A; Fior, S
    MOLECULAR ECOLOGY, 28 (4):818-832; 10.1111/mec.14994 FEB 2019
  • Ecological divergence plays an important role in strong but complex reproductive isolation in campions (Silene)
    Karrenberg, S; Liu, Xd; Hallander, E; Favre, A; Herforth-Rahme, J; Widmer, A
    EVOLUTION, 73 (2):245-261; 10.1111/evo.13652 FEB 2019
Alex Widmer

Prof. Dr. Alex Widmer
ETH Zurich
Institute of Integrative Biology
8092 Zurich

Tel: +41 (0)44 632 21 74

Research topics

  • Plant adaptation
  • Reproductive isolation
  • Genetic diversity
  • Sex chromosome evolution



  • Functional genomics
  • Ultra-high throughput sequencing
  • Reciprocal transplant experiments