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R. Ford Denison

Adjunct Professor


Google Scholar page

Graduate Faculty Memberships

Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, Plant Biological Sciences

Research Interests

Applying evolutionary biology to agriculture and human health; developing instrumentation for higher-throughput phenotyping of nitrogen-fixing crops. 


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

Denison, R.Ford 2021. Legume-imposed selection for more-efficient symbiotic rhizobia. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 118: e2107033118

Oono, Ryoko, Katherine E. Muller, Randy Ho, Andres Jimenez Salinas, and Robert Ford Denison. 2020. How do less-expensive nitrogen alternatives affect legume sanctions on rhizobia? Ecol Evol 10: 10645-10656

Sadras,V., J. Alston, P. Aphalo, D. Connor, R.F. Denison, et al.. 2020. Making science more effective for agriculture. Advances in Agronomy 163: 153-177

Denison, RF 2019. Evolutionary tradeoffs are key to beneficial manipulation of crops by microbes. American Journal of Botany 106: 1529 -1531

Muller, Katherine E., and R.Ford Denison. 2018. Resource acquisition and allocation traits in symbiotic rhizobia with implications for life-history outside of legume hosts. Royal Society Open Science 5: 181124

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

Denison, R.F. 2011. Past evolutionary tradeoffs represent opportunities for crop genetic improvement and increased human lifespan. Evol. Appl. 4: 216-224

Ratcliff, W.C., P. Hawthorne, M. Travisano, and 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
1987 Upper Buford Circle
St. Paul, MN 55108