I have been in love with ferns since I was a child Ė I guess it was an aesthetic choice, originally. But as I began to study botany, it became apparent that ferns (and other pteridophytes/monilophytes) are an often-understudied, often-overlooked group of really cool plants that have been around much longer than most other plants.
But which fern group to study? Recently, two fern genera in the family Pteridaceae have been shown to hyperaccumulate arsenic, a common environmental toxin that contaminates groundwater in many parts of the world. I am interested in studying this trait in a phylogenetic framework, asking questions about the timing of the traitís appearance, its possible adaptive value, and whether it represents a plesiomorphic character in the Pteridaceae or in one or more of its subclades. I hope that my research will help point to as-yet-unknown fern taxa that can be used in phytoremediation, in which plants are used to remove toxins from contaminated soils (this is often much cheaper, quicker, and more efficient than other conventional methods).
My genera of interest are pantropical, so Iíll see where my collecting trips (er, funding opportunities) take me. I am especially interested in collecting specimens of Pityrogramma in the center of diversity of the genus, the Andean region of South America.
I am just getting started on my dissertation research, and I am grateful to be at an institution with so many resources Ė including professors who are really at the cutting edge of the field of phylogenetic systematics. With molecular data pouring in and leading to fine-scale revisions of the evolutionary relationships of plants, it is truly an exciting time to be a botanist.