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Potential Role of Epigenetic Processes in Oak Populations

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Victoria L Sork, Luke Browne, Sorel Fitz-Gibbon, and Matteo Pellegrini

Published May 2019 in International Oaks No. 30: 177–184


Epigenetics is the study of heritable phenotypic variation that does not involve changes in DNA sequence. Many ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and horticulturists are interested in learning how epigenetic processes can shape phenotypic variation related to adaptation to the environment and/or can make plants more suitable for landscape purposes. In oaks, this question is particularly important because as long-lived trees, epigenetic processes may facilitate a faster response to climate change than genetic processes. In this article, we first present background on epigenetics emphasizing DNA methylation, a commonly studied epigenetic mechanism, and then summarize studies of oaks that provide evidence that (i) variation in DNA methylation is commonly observed in natural populations; (ii) environment can induce methylation changes; and (iii) patterns of methylation are associated with phenotypic variation. This evidence illustrates the potential role of epigenetics in the response of tree populations to climate.


Quercus, DNA methylation, phenotypic plasticity, climate


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