Susan Swensen Witherup

Susan Swensen Witherup

Professor, Department of Biology
Faculty, School of Humanities and Sciences

Specialty:Botany/Plant Systematics and Evolution
Phone:(607) 274-3511
Office:254 Ctr for Natural Sciences
Ithaca, NY 14850

My research focuses on the use of molecular data (DNA) from plants to address questions about their evolution.  "Molecular systematics" is the use of molecular data to reconstruct phylogenies (our best guesses of evolutionary history).  I have conducted molecular systematics to study the evolutionary relationships among different species of plants in the order Cucurbitales  (cucumbers, squashes, begonias, and a few other smaller plant families).  I am also using molecular data at the level of populations to study evolution within a species. "Populations genetics" is the use of genetic information to characterize the variation that exist in populations.  

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 plant roots evolve?  How do plants and their parasites co-evolve?   I have been working collaboratively with scientists at Cornell College and the Smithsonian to understand if "rainforest cucumbers"  (genus Gurania of the Cucurbitaceae family--the squash and pumpkin family) have coevolved with their insect parasites, fruit flies that belong to the genus Blepharonuera (Diptera).  More recently, I have begun to look at the question of how species evolve on islands.  I am characterizing the genetic variation in the inkberry (Scaevola plumieri) in Puerto Rico using microsatellites as a way to understand how this native species might be impacted by a closely related invasive species (Scaevola taccada).

If you are interested in conducting research in my lab, please click here for the projects.

If you need more information on the procedures to enroll for research credit then follow this link.

Student funding is typical for support to conduct their project.

View pictures from recent research in Puerto Rico!

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