I joined the University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM) in Dec 2020. Prior to this, I obtained my BSc degree from the National University of Singapore, NUS, in 2009, with a major in Life Sciences and a minor in Technopreneurship. I then conducted my PhD dissertation at NUS (2009-2013) on the "genetic connectivity of four mangrove species from the Malay Peninsula". Following this, I expanded my PhD work as a postdoctoral fellow (Apr-Jul 2014) at Chiba University (Japan) to include the global biogeography of key Asian mangrove species, before moving to the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (China) for a fellowship supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences to assess a genetically effective method of ex-situ conservation of threatened tree species (Aug 2014 - Dec 2015). From 2016 - 2020, I led the Ecological Genomics Team as an Associate Professor in the College of Forestry at Guangxi University (China). My core research interest is in the biogeography, adaptation and conservation of coastal ecosystems. My research has been supported by SEAMEO BIOTROP, the University of the Ryukyus, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, among others.
My current research profile is firmly established on the biogeography, adaptation and conservation of coastal ecosystems (especially mangroves), with the primary goal of understanding their… read more
WEE, ALISON K. S., NOREEN, ANNIKA M. E., ONO, JUNYA, TAKAYAMA, KOJI, KUMAR, PRAKASH P., TAN, HUGH T. W., SALEH, MOHD N., KAJITA, TADASHI and WEBB, EDWARD L., 2020. Genetic structures across a biogeographical barrier reflect dispersal potential of four Southeast Asian mangrove plant species JOURNAL OF BIOGEOGRAPHY. 47(6), 1258-1271
FRIESS, DANIEL A., YANDO, ERIK S., ABUCHAHLA, GUILHERME M. O., ADAMS, JANINE B., CANNICCI, STEFANO, CANTY, STEVEN W. J., CAVANAUGH, KYLE C., CONNOLLY, ROD M., CORMIER, NICOLE, DAHDOUH-GUEBAS, FARID, DIELE, KAREN, FELLER, ILKA C., FRATINI, SARA, JENNERJAHN, TIM C., LEE, SHING YIP, OGURCAK, DANIELLE E., OUYANG, XIAOGUANG, ROGERS, KERRYLEE, ROWNTREE, JENNIFER K., SHARMA, SAHADEV, SLOEY, TAYLOR M. and WEE, ALISON K. S., 2020. Mangroves give cause for conservation optimism, for now CURRENT BIOLOGY. 30(4), R153-R154
My current research profile is firmly established on the biogeography, adaptation and conservation of coastal ecosystems (especially mangroves), with the primary goal of understanding their historical and future response to global change and anthropogenic threats using molecular approaches.
Global phylogeography of mangroves
Mangroves are a tropical and subtropical intertidal plant community that could serve as an ideal study system to examine the drivers of landscape-level genetic connectivity. First, mangroves consist of phylogenetically-unrelated plant groups that underwent convergent evolution to adapt to an intertidal environment. Therefore, a wide spectrum of ecology and dispersal characteristics exists across species. Second, being coastal plants, mangroves have undergone dramatic species range changes in the past due to the fluctuations in sea level, especially during the Pleistocene. This gave rise to pronounce phylogeographic patterns and allowed us to examine both the past and present effect of vicariance and landscape features (e.g. land mass). Third, all true mangroves have water-dispersed propagules (i.e. seeds, fruits or viviparous seedlings). Therefore, any disparity in phylogeographic pattern is most likely due to ecological and biological factors. This project aims to
- Determine the global phylogeographic patterns of multiple mangrove species
- Examine the effect of major of drivers of gene flow via a comparative phylogeographic approach
Environmental DNA metabarcoding in mangrove habitat
Tropical coastal ecosystems are severely threatened by climate change, pollution, over-harvesting, sea-level rise and natural disaster. Mitigating these threats would first require an effective and standardized, multi-taxa biomonitoring tool for coastal biodiversity survey and environmental assessment. Environmental DNA (eDNA) sourced from fresh- and seawater offers a novel avenue for assessing the biota in coastal ecosystems. Aquatic eDNA metabarcoding is a non-invasive, non-destructive method to monitor coastal biodiversity changes by characterizing the local spatio-temporal distribution of eDNA. Such a tool could be particularly beneficial to Malaysia, which is a coastal nation with shared natural resources and threats with its neighboring countries. However, due to the lack of a region-specific reference database, the potential of eDNA metabarcoding remains unrealized.
This research aims to
- Establish a fundamental metabarcoding library for coastal plants, fishes and crustaceans in Malaysia's mangrove ecosystem
- Formulate a coastal eDNA biomonitoring methodology
- Provide free access to tools and knowledge base for using eDNA in coastal management
- Provide necessary data and know-how to policymakers on using eDNA as a non-invasive biomonitoring tool.
Physiological and molecular response to chilling stress in mangroves
Patterns of plant distribution provide a fundamental, unifying framework in which to examine the evolution and ecology of plants, and their influence on global landscapes. Mangrove forest is a tropical/subtropical intertidal plant community that provides important ecosystem services and supports a large portion of the global coastal human population. The distribution of mangroves is mainly restricted by low temperature, thus the warming global climate is expected to expand mangrove distribution range poleward. The distribution range of mangrove species may be shifting at different rates according to their tolerance towards chilling stress.
This research aimed to:
- Determine the physiological tolerance threshold of various mangrove species towards chilling stress.
- Determine the extent of (molecular) adaptation to chilling stress in populations from varying climatic conditions, especially the amount of adaptive variation that is present in the genome.
- Understand the molecular regulatory network of response to chilling stress in mangroves
Addressing these critical knowledge gaps could elucidate on the biological limitation and evolutionary potential of mangroves growing at the edge of their tolerances, and improve predictive modeling of future mangrove distribution. A combination of common garden experiments, plant growth chamber experiments, field physiological measurements, transcriptome analysis and genotyping was used in this project.
Population genomics and conservation management of threatened species in the Dipterocarpaceae family
Genetic exchanges among individuals and populations, either by pollen or seed, are necessary to maintain the long-term viability of a species. Hence, it is crucial to assess the genetic connectivity of individuals within a population and of populations across landscapes in order to identify priority species / population and to achieve successful conservation. The advent of Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies offers a powerful approach to quantify gene flow across landscapes in non-model species, making it increasingly feasible to investigate the genetic variation of threatened species, its relationship to ecological and landscape conditions, and to evaluate management strategies. Diperocarpaceae is a mega-diverse, pan-tropical plant family distributed in tropical and subtropical Asia, Africa, and South America, with Asia being the present centre of diversity. Asian dipterocarps are one of the tallest tropical trees. They dominate the forest canopy, have straight stems and are highly valued for their hardwood timber. As a result, dipterocarps in lowland forests have been heavily logged, leading to extensive habitat destruction and fragmentation. Over-harvesting severely jeopardizes the ecological roles of dipterocarps as the structural foundation and keystone species of tropical forests, and as carbon sinks. Many dipterocarp species are threatened due to the loss of habitat: circa 58% of all dipterocarps have been assessed by the IUCN Red List, of which 94% are listed as endangered.
This project aimed to
1.Determine the extent of genetic erosion across natural populations. 2.Determine the impact of fragmentation on gene flow. 3.Determine the role of chilling stress as a selective pressure driving population divergence. Ultimately, this project was a targeted research on essential genetic processes of conservation concern: genetic erosion, gene flow and adaptation. This strategy could potentially be integrated as a routine practice in the conservation and restoration of dipterocarp species and other endangered tropical trees.