Obtaining Project Baseline seeds for research

To maximize information obtained from the Project Baseline collections, seed distribution for research will occur incrementally over the next five decades as follows: 5% of samples may be distributed at 5 yr; 8% at 10 yr; 10% at 15 yr; 20% at 20 yr; 27% at 25 yr; 30% at 40-50 yr.

Requests to use Project Baseline seeds will be based on a formal research proposal process. In 2019, the first proposal solicitation to use the collection will be announced in multiple venues, including: journals and web pages of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the Botanical Society of America, the Genetics Society of America, Evolutionary Ecology Research, and the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, listservs such as EvolDir and Ecolog, the Project Baseline web page, and via PI seminars.

A Proposal Evaluation Committee will be convened by the Advisory Board (add link) and will be composed of seven people including PIs, co-PIs, consultants, and other researchers involved in Project Baseline workshops and/or that have NSF (or similar) panel experience. This committee will review proposals (modeled after NSF guidelines) to withdraw seeds from the collection after five years of storage and at 5yr intervals thereafter. The first call for proposals will focus on annual species, which have had the greatest number of generations to evolve.

Proposals will be evaluated by the review panel on the basis of NSF Merit Review Criteria: 1) Intellectual Merit, and 2) Broader Impacts [32]. In addition we will require three sections that describe: 3) how contemporary seed collections will be included in the experimental design, 4) how the PI will capitalize upon unique structural aspects of the collection as follows:

  • Use of unique attributes of the collection: The Project Baseline collection was designed to include a high degree of replication within each species. Depending on the abundance and distribution of each species, the seed bank represents numerous sites, populations, and maternal lines per population. One of many possible examples of an appropriate research design is outlined in Figure 3. Researchers will be expected to explain how their research plan capitalizes on one or more of the following aspects of the collection and on the temporal dimension inherent in resurrection studies.
  • Taxonomic diversity: Experiments testing specific predictions can be designed to include two or more taxa. If the results are found to be parallel, this enhances the inferential power relative to single-species studies. If hypothesis testing is conducted with only one taxon, the results could reflect idiosyncrasies of the specific taxon, not a more general evolutionary pattern.
  • Multiple populations sampled across the species range: It is unlikely that populations within a species will evolve at the same rate or by the same mechanisms. Geographic variation in evolutionary processes has rarely been studied but will be possible with the Project Baseline collection. Populations may evolve differently because of inherent differences in genetic architecture or because the strength or efficacy of natural selection differs across the species range. The fact that this collection includes populations sampled broadly across each species' range offers opportunities to test a host of questions regarding spatial variation in gene flow, the strength and direction of natural selection, fragmentation, evolution across environmental gradients, and the magnitude of change during intervening time period.
  • Samples of conspecific populations sampled within close proximity to each other (i.e., within a site): Evolution happens at the population level and can differ between populations even within a single site. Inclusion of replicate populations from a single site will strengthen scientific inferences because this approach helps to prevent drawing general conclusions that reflect the peculiarities of an individual population.
  • Populations of different species sampled from the same site: Because more than one species was sampled from some sites, it will be possible to examine how distinct species sampled from same community have responded to the biotic and abiotic change over time.
  • Sister taxa: Experiments that include sister taxa can provide evidence that observed changes over time are a function of adaptation rather than phylogenetic inertia [33]. Phylogenetic inertia refers to the tendency for related species to have similar traits simply because they both inherited those traits from a common ancestor. Inclusion of sister taxa in experiments will permit researchers to reject the phylogenetic inertia hypothesis if sister taxa evolve in different ways.
  • Maternal lines: Tremendous extra effort was necessary to collect and store seeds by maternal line. This was done to provide opportunities to study genetic structure within populations and to permit quantitative genetic estimates of heritability and to test predictions regarding the evolutionary response to selection.