Floral evolution, plants systematics, and conservation biology

My research applies field studies and phlyogenomic and morphometric tools to elucidate species relationships and to understand the evolution of floral traits.

I am fascinated by the rich diversity of flowering plants and the animals that interact with them, and by the idea that these interactions may help explain the remarkable diversity we see today. My work is currently focused on the ‘justicioid’ lineage in the family Acanthaceae. This group includes members of the genus Justicia, the largest genus in Acanthaceae (ca. 600 spp), and spans the Old and New World. The genus, as a whole, is not monophyletic however all sampled species to date from the New World are together monophyletic (Kiel et al. 2017). New World Justicia forms a substantial radiation of ~400 species that is primarily tropical.  Floral morphology in this lineage, including size, color, and inflorescence structure is remarkably diverse, mirroring that of the entire family.


Justicia.valeroi4 DSC02431 P1110958


Members of Justicia from the New World are particularly intriguing among Acanthaceae because they demonstrate remarkable variability in anther, stigma and pollen morphology. The association between macro-floral traits (e.g., color, size) and pollinators is well documented in evolutionary biology but micro-structures of flowers, including anthers, stigmas, and pollen, have received less attention in the context of plant-pollinator relationships.

As a postdoc in Dr. Lucinda McDade’s lab at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, I seek to understand how micro-morphological traits of sexual structures have evolved among New World Justicia and if these changes are associated with different pollination systems (i.e., hummingbird, bee, lepidopteran).


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