Systematics of the xeric-adapted genus Argyrochosma
The cheilanthoid ferns are xeric-adapted members of the family Pteridaceae and provide a striking example of how convergent evolution of morphological traits has obscured the delineation of monophyletic lineages. In collaboration with Dr. Michael Windham (Duke Herbarium) and working entirely from herbarium vouchers, I completed a systematic survey of the New World cheilanthoid genus Argyrochosma and reconstructed the character evolution of farina, a powdery substance hypothesized to reduce water loss and reflect light. By combining phylogenetic analyses of plastid sequence data with morphological data, we were able to determine that the farinose species of Argyrochosma form a monophyletic group and that major chemical variants of farina characterize specific clades. In addition, by incorporating spore size measurements, data on the number of spores per sporangium, and chromosome counts, I was able to evaluate the distribution of polyploid and apomictic species across the genus. This work identified several putative, cryptic polyploid species in need of further study (Sigel et al. 2011, Systematic Botany). At present, I am collaborating with Dr. Eric Schuettpelz and Spencer Goyette (both of the Smithsonian Institution) to expand sampling of the polyploid species, use low-copy nuclear sequence markers to resolve their parentage, and provide taxonomic treatments of previously unrecognized taxa.