I am a plant pornographer. I am fascinated in understanding the amazing diversity in the form of sex organs in angiosperms (flowers). To this end, I employ an integrative approach spanning developmental genetics, pollination ecology, and phylogenetic biology to gain insights on the proximate and ultimate factors that generate floral morphological diversity.
For the last 4 years, I have been conducting experiments in western Massachusetts to study the pollination ecology of the hobblebush, Viburnum lantanoides. Like sunflowers and hydrangeas, hobblebush produce showy inflorescences composed of a central cluster of small, fertile flowers encircled by large, sterile flowers, that as a whole, make the inflorescence look and function like a single flower. Its not clear why hobblebush (or sunflowers and hydrangeas for that matter) do this, so I have been collecting data on insect visitation and fruit set in a population of hobblebush composed of “wild-type” plants with sterile flowers and experimental plants with their sterile flowers removed. I hope results provide insights into the role of natural selection in driving the evolution of sterile flowers in hobblebush.
This work has been a truly collaborative effort, with involvement from several undergraduate students, PhD students, and postdocs. If you are interested in getting out into the field, please contact me by email.