Plant Systematics, Developmental Genetics and Trait Evolution
Our research is centered on the processes and patterns involved in the evolution and diversification of plants, especially the monocots. We use a phylogenetic framework to test hypotheses of morphological evolution and to analyze temporal and spatial patterns of plant speciation and diversification. The use of systematics in comparative biology is emphasized. Areas of focus are on the evolution of development, comparative genomics and the genetics of interspecies interactions.
Floral development & evolution
Due to the natural diversity of floral forms, the Zingiberales provide an ideal model system to test the role of candidate floral development genes in the formation of diverse morphologies found in these plants. We are looking at the role of identified genes important in floral development of Arabidopsis in the development of novel floral structures (such as the labellum) within Zingiberales. Techniques include in situ hybridization to analyze gene expression patterns during defined stages of early and late stage floral development, and Virus Induced Gene Silencing (VIGS) to create effective gene knock-downs.
We are currently analyzing rates of speciation with information on pollinator specificity to test hypotheses concerning the influence of pollinator-specific associations on diversification across major lineages at multiple ecological and temporal scales. The results of this research will help to determine the effect of pollination-specific floral structure and pollinator specificity on species diversification rates in both temperate and tropical environments. Such information is crucial to understanding the role of pollination and the effect of pollinator specificity on biological diversification and species radiations in all plants. We are then using a transcriptomics approach to identify genes and gene pathways involved in the development and evolution of pollination syndromes.
Molecular mechanisms underlying Trait Evolution
Plants have evolved certain traits that enable them to survive and diversify over time. The history of genetic and genomic changes that have led to or even enabled trait evolution is one of the major focuses of the lab. Currently, graduate students are investigating the genetic mechanisms underlying two very interesting traits that have evolved multiple times in land plants: thermogenesis and carnivory.