My research area is plant molecular systematics, that is, the use of molecular data to reconstruct the evolutionary history of plants. I have worked mainly on plants in the order Cucurbitales, which includes the pumpkin family, the begonia family and a few other smaller plant families. The questions that most intrigue me are evolutionary ones. For example, how did Hillebrandia (a begonia) come to exist in Hawaii and nowhere else? How did bacterial symbioses in plants evolve? Most recently, my work has focused on studying the evolution of a group of tropical vines called "rainforest cucumbers" (genera Gurania and Psiguria of the Cucurbitaceae--the Squash and Pumpkin family). I am working collaboratively with scientists at Cornell College, the Smithsonian Institution, and the USDA to understand if the plants have coevolved with their insect parasites, fruit flies that belong to the genus Blepharonuera (Diptera). We will address this question by comparing phylogenies (trees) that we build using data from DNA. Research on this project involves travel to field sites in Central and South America.
If you are interested in conducting research in my lab, please click here for the projects.
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Student funding is typical for support to conduct their project.