Our lab is interested in the evolutionary relationships of plants, the processes and patterns of speciation and diversification, the ecological drivers of that diversification, and the historical biogeography of taxa. Although we are particularly interested in the seed-free vascular plants (ferns and lycophytes), the underlying research goal of the lab is to contribute to the appreciation of plant biodiversity and the evolutionary origins of that biodiversity.
In our research, we use traditional morphological analyses in combination with molecular phylogenetics to resolve species boundaries and evolutionary relationships within taxa of interest—currently the neotropical fern genus Adiantopsis, which is a member of the cheilanthoid clade of the ecologically diverse Pteridaceae. By integrating morphological, ecological, and geographic data with the phylogenetic framework provided by DNA sequence data, our lab is gaining insight into the evolutionary patterns and processes (e.g., character evolution and adaptation) in this genus and—by extension—the diversification that has occurred in the neotropics in general.
The Link-Perez lab also is interested in science education, particularly botanical education, active learning, and inquiry-type lab experiences. See below for current work in this area.
Description of New Species
We are currently working on completing the molecular and morphological characterization of Adiantopsis alata Prantl and ten new species identified by earlier research in the lab, leading to formal description and publication of valid names for the new taxa. Students involved in this research are gaining experience with general molecular techniques, such as DNA isolation (from herbarium specimens on loan to the herbarium), polymerase chain reaction, and gel electrophoresis, as well as a foundation in phylogenetic analyses. The project also employs histological techniques to collect spore, sporangial, and stomata data for the species, along with quantitative morphological data using compound light microscopy and stereomicroscopy.
Polyploidy and Reticulate Evolution
Hybridization and allopolyploidy are important evolutionary forces for plants, particularly ferns. Our lab is building on its past research on the fern genus Adiantopsis and venturing into a new area of studies exploring reticulate evolution and polyploidy in the group. Several members of Adiantopsis are hypothesized to be hybrids or allopolyploids (e.g. A. lindigii, A. pedata, and A. pentagona). We will attempt to determine the role of hybridization in the diversification of this genus and to confirm or reject hybrid origin(s) and parentage for select taxa. Students involved in this research will work with nuclear genes and use advanced techniques including gel extraction and cloning.
Population Structure of a Clonal Dune Perennial
We are collaborating with the Joesting Lab in the Biology Department at Armstrong State University to determine the contribution of sexual reproduction to the population structure of Hydrocotyle bonariensis (Araliaceae), a flowering plant that forms extensive clones through rhizomatous growth. Check back for more details later.
Improving Botanical Education in Elementary and Secondary Science Classrooms
Our research agenda aims to identify plant species that can be effective in classroom settings to help teachers achieve their goals for student learning about plants. To be effective candidates for classroom use, plant species need to have high germination rates, be easy to grow, be amenable to the physical limitations of the classroom setting, and possess interesting features, history, or uses to capture students' attention. We are generating an interesting and ever-increasing list of teacher- and classroom-friendly plants, along with developing an associated curriculum of suggested activities and ways those activities can address the Next Generation Science Standards.