Current Research

The overall goal of the Goud Lab research program is to advance our understanding of the mechanisms underlying plant diversity with a focus on plant responses to environmental stress. Much of our work addresses how responses to moisture stress interact with other stressors like acids, metals, or salts. Such harsh environments occur naturally, such as peat bogs, while others are the result of anthropogenic disturbance such as industrial contamination. Understanding plant responses to environmental stress over evolutionary and ecological time scales help us understand plant diversity and is critical to effective land management and ecological restoration.

Evolution of stress tolerance in the Ericaceae

The ability to tolerate water limitation may pre-adapt an organism to other stressors, possibly enabling transitions into new environments over evolutionary time. We are investigating potential mechanisms underlying ecological shifts from water-limited to other harsh environments in the Ericaceae (heath) family. Ericaceae is a broadly diverse, globally distributed plant family ranging from parasitic herbs to large broad-leaf trees. Heath have radiated into wide-ranging environments from subtropical wetlands to arctic tundra including acidic, water-limited, and saline habitats. In fact, heath are so often associated with stressful environments that an entire ecosystem type is named after them: heathlands! In addition to being tough stress-tolerators, heath species are also beautiful (Rhododendrons) and tasty (blueberries, cranberries, huckleberries).


Do water-use traits enable acid tolerance?

Water-use traits may enable acid tolerance due to shared responses between osmotic and ionic stress, but we know surprisingly little about how plants directly respond to acids. We are investigating this question in bog shrubs. Bogs are peat-forming wetlands that are highly acidic and many species possess traits adaptive under water deficits even though water is seemingly unlimited. We are testing whether drought tolerance is adaptive in acid soils using greenhouse experiments and field studies. 


Variation in water availability, acidity, and salinity in Atlantic heathlands

Altered precipitation patterns and sea-level rise from climate change are exposing many coastal areas to new combinations of soil moisture and salinity, which may negatively impact biodiversity and ecosystem function. Atlantic heathlands provide a unique system to address these issues: in Nova Scotia there are wetlands (bogs) and drylands (rock barrens) with coastal and inland counterparts, creating natural variation in soil moisture, pH, and salinity. We are determining variation in plant function along these natural environmental gradients and assessing plant responses to novel combinations of water availability and salinity in greenhouse and field experiments.


Peatland Restoration

Peatlands are wetland ecosystems with distinct soil structure and chemistry that supports unique ecological communities and regional biodiversity, including rare and threatened plant and animal species. Peatlands are also globally important carbon sinks, storing approximately one-third of the world’s terrestrial soil carbon. In Canada, peatlands cover an estimated 120 million hectares of land surface, the second largest cover of peatlands in the world. Many Canadian peatlands are impacted by industrial resource extraction such as metal and oil mining and horticultural peat harvesting. We are working to restore post-industrial peatlands to return their biodiversity and carbon sink function. Current restoration projects are part of the Boreal Ecosystem and Recovery and Assessment Project (beraproject.org) in collaboration with academic, industry, government, and non-profit groups.