Gregory M. Plunkett

Director and Curator, Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics

Ph.D., Washington State University (1994)
Expertise: Systematics of Araliaceae, Apiaceae, Pittosporaceae. Biogeography of SW Pacific.

Profile

My research on tropical and southern-hemisphere plants integrates field and herbarium studies with molecular phylogenetics and biogeographic studies, often using the dicot order Apiales as a model. This order includes two large families, Araliaceae (the ivy family) and Apiaceae (the carrot family), as well as several other smaller families (e.g., Pittosporaceae, Melanophyllaceae, Torricelliaceae). Convergent and parallel evolution has been rampant in these groups, and has largely obscured phylogenetic relationships, but DNA-based characters have helped make sense of the complex patterns of morphological, phytochemical, and geographic diversity.

My field work has been concentrated in the Southwest Pacific islands, especially Melanesia (including Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands), where many genera and species of Araliaceae and its relatives are endemic (e.g., Schefflera, Polyscias, Osmoxylon, Meryta, Myodocarpus, and Delarbrea). I also work in tropical and temperate South America, where several groups of Apiales have experienced parallel radiations along the Andes, including Schefflera and Hydrocotyle (Araliaceae), and Apiaceae subfamily Azorelloideae.

Before joining the Cullman Program at NYBG in 2009, I was a Professor of Biology at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I served on the Faculty for over 12 years, teaching courses in general botany, plant taxonomy, economic botany, and molecular systematics.