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R. Ford Denison

Adjunct Professor


Google Scholar page

Graduate Faculty Memberships

Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, Plant Biological Sciences

Research Interests

Evolution of cooperation; agricultural implications of past and ongoing natural selection; life-history tradeoffs as a possible explanation for stress-induced longevity.


Darwin argued that domesticated species have been "neglected by naturalists."  That is still true of agricultural symbionts, such as the rhizobia that provide legume crops with nitrogen.  Students in my lab have used rhizobia mainly to test fundamental hypotheses about the evolution of cooperation, with possible practical applications in agriculture.  Evolutionary tradeoffs between longevity and reproduction are a significant side-interest, with implications for perennial grain crops and for human longevity.

Selected Publications

Carroll,S.P., P.S. Jørgensen, M.T. Kinnison, C.T. Bergstrom, R.F. Denison,  P. Gluckman, T.B. Smith, S.Y. Strauss, B.E. Tabashnik. 2014. Applying evolutionary biology to address global challenges.  Science 346:313

Kiers, E.T.; W.C. Ratcliff, R.F. Denison. 2013. Single-strain inoculation may create spurious correlations between legume fitness and rhizobial fitness. New Phytologist 198:4-6.

Denison, R.F. 2012.  Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture.  Princeton University Press, 258 pp.

Oono, R., C.G. Anderson, R.F. Denison. 2011. Failure to fix nitrogen (N2) by nonreproductive symbiotic rhizobia triggers host sanctions that reduce fitness of their reproductive clonemates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 278:2698-2703.

Oono, R., I. Schmitt, J.I. Sprent, R.F. Denison. 2010. Multiple evolutionary origins of legume traits leading to extreme rhizobial differentiation.  New Phytol. 187:508-520.

Ratcliff, W.C., P. Hawthorne, M. Travisano, R.F. Denison. 2009. When stress predicts a shrinking gene pool, trading early reproduction for longevity can increase fitness, even with lower fecundity. PLoS One 4:e6055.

Kiers, E.T., R.A. Rousseau, S.A. West, and R.F. Denison. 2003. Host sanctions and the legume-rhizobium mutualism.  Nature 425:78-81




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100 Ecology
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