Research

I am interested in asking questions at the intersection of North American plant systematics, disjunct phylogeography, and genomic mechanisms of trait evolution.

I am a postdoctoral scholar in  Dr. Tanya Renner’s lab at Penn State University. The Renner lab investigates the evolutionary history and genomic mechanisms of functional adaptations in carnivorous plants and bombardier beetles. I am using the cape sundew, Drosera capensis L. (Droseraceae, Caryophyllales), as a model organism to: 1.  identify the genes and signaling pathways involved in prey digestion and nutrient uptake in Drosera, 2. map the genomic architecture of carnivory genes given historical and lineage-specific polyploidization, and 3. compare how carnivorous habits evolved in multiple lineages in the order Caryophyllales. Through this research I aim to address the broader questions of functional evolution and gene co-option following whole-genome and tandem duplication events, and more specifically address the evolution and regulation of the carnivorous habit in Drosera.

My PhD research focused on North American disjunct plants. Disjunct plants exhibit a dis-continuous geographic distribution; their populations are sometimes broken up by unsuitable habitat and have limited gene flow. My research focused on the western North American plant species that have disjunct populations in the Great Lakes region. Some of these species are also disjunct  in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which suggests an interesting “stepping stone” historical biogeography hypothesis. Populations of these species in the Great Lakes region are often threatened or endangered, making them important case studies for conservation efforts in the Midwest. My PhD reviewed the overall biogeographic pattern and provided an updated list of the species that exhibit this distribution. I found that these species are likely pseudo parallel–exhibiting a similar distribution, but arriving at it by different means. To investigate questions related to migration history (how did these species move across North America to arrive in their current distribution?), timing of population splits (were these species restricted by the glaciation cycles of the Pleistocene?), and genetic diversity (are the Great Lakes region populations at risk due to low genetic diversity?), I conducted in-depth phylogeographic analyses on three case studies: thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus, Rosaceae), monkshood (Aconitum columbianum, Ranunculaceae), and devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus, Araliaceae). Publications are in prep.