The Donovan lab investigates plant evolutionary ecophysiology, with an emphasis on resource use and stress tolerance traits as they relate to plant performance. We examine ecological and evolutionary responses to growth limiting factors (e.g. water and nutrient limitations, drought, and salinity). Our current study system is primarily a suite of Helianthus species, due to their wide-ranging ecology and available genetic and genomic tools. In general, we want to know how individual plant traits affect plant fitness and distribution, and how these traits evolve. To address these questions, we use a combination of ecological, ecophysiological, evolutionary genetic and genomic approaches. Prospective students with an interest in functional ecology, evolution, and genomics of plant traits are encouraged to apply.
My dissertation research concerns the water transport and use of wild and domesticated sunflowers. Plant stems must transport water to fill and be used by leaves, while maintaining structural support for the whole plant. I am interested in studying how a number of external and internal factors may create a system of tradeoffs in stem and leaf form and function. Specifically, I study evolutionary patterns of water use traits across the sunflower genus, how these traits respond to drought, and how these traits have shifted under the process of domestication.