BACKGROUND: A central dogma in biology is that individuals transmit their genes to offspring, but not their acquired characters. However, it is increasingly recognized that environmental factors can have phenotypic consequences that are passed on to offspring without changes in the underlying genetic code. The epigenetic mechanisms of non-genetic inheritance are rapidly being unravelled at the molecular level, and recent findings highlight the power of these mechanisms as an additional inheritance system. However, basic questions on the natural causes and consequences of epigenetic variation remain unanswered. To address these questions a novel research area of ecological epigenetics is emerging. AIMS: My aims are to understand the potential of epigenetics to contribute to heritable plant variation and adaptation, to gain insight in its role in natural populations, and to establish a leading research group in ecological epigenetics. PREVIOUS WORK: I am using apomictic dandelions as a model, which offer conceptual and practical advantages for exploring epigenetic variation that is not confounded with genetic variation. I previously demonstrated that ecological stresses cause transgenerational effects on DNA methylation and traits in unexposed offspring. APPROACH: I will combine ecological, genetic and epigenetic research tools to (1) characterize transgenerational effects of environmental stresses on offspring traits and transcriptomes, and to explore epigenetic inheritance as an underlying mechanism; (2) evaluate the relation between stress-induced methylation changes and transposon re-activation; (3) provide proof-of-principle for the evolutionary potential of epigenetic inheritance by artificial selection experiments on epigenetic variation in absence of genetic variation; and to (4) test hypotheses on the relevance of environment-induced epigenetic variation under natural field conditions. IMPACT: My research is among the first efforts to bridge the gap between ecology and epigenetics. It will stimulate and help to shape this new research area, and will provide novel insight in the evolutionary potential of epigenetic inheritance.