The Pacific Ocean is the last area on earth to have been colonized by humans. Major archaeological questions remain as to the timing and order of colonizing voyages within Polynesia. My dissertation research uses botanical data to investigate human colonization patterns in the Polynesian triangle. I am using genetic, cytological and morphological evidence from the Polynesian introduced plant Cordyline fruticosa (L.) Chev. as a proxy for the study of Polynesian prehistory. C. fruticosa, the "ti" plant, is ubiquitous in its distribution and ethnobotanic use in Polynesia. Cordyline pollen appears in the palynological record around the same time as the main Polynesian canoe plants including taros, bananas, sugar cane, and breadfruit. Ti is important for making costumes, for wrapping food, for religious uses, and even as an occasional food source.
Recently, I have used cytological methods (pollen stainability, chromosome counts) to describe variation in sexual reproduction within C. fruticosa. This work has shown congruent patterns with other archaeological evidence. I currently have a live collection that will be used to conduct morphological studies to investigate evidence of selection for increased rhizome size related to its aboriginal use as a food source. Additionally, I am hoping to perform controlled crosses to establish seedlessness in Eastern Polynesian accessions. Concurrently, I am using molecular techniques to look for affinities between archipelagoes. I am using both sequence-based and AFLP fingerprinting techniques. I will use this data to address questions of genetic diversity within and among archipelagoes and relative timing and direction of movement of particular haplotypes.