Jenna Ekwealor

Jenna Ekwealor

Postdoctoral Researcher

Smithsonian Institution

I’m a Biodiversity Genomics Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution Data Science Lab. I am fascinated by the very small: those organisms that are easily overlooked by macrobes like ourselves. I am also excited by extremophiles: those that can survive and thrive in conditions thought to be difficult for life itself. These interests come together in studying mosses. These small plants have found a way to only truly ‘live’ when conditions are right (that is, when enough water is present), and dry out and go quiescent when water is absent. For desert mosses that is most of the time! Yet, almost miraculously, dryland mosses are able to quickly begin to grow and thrive again, while recovering from damage that accumulated while they were desiccated. I find this process fascinating and I am interested in thinking about the evolutionary (both micro and macro) implications of this way of life.



  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Eco-physiology
  • Botany
  • Data Science & Bioinformatics
  • Fine Arts


  • Ph.D. in Integrative Biology, 2020

    University of California, Berkeley

  • M.S. in Environmental Science, Biology Option, 2015

    California State University, Los Angeles

  • B.S. in Biology, Chemistry Minor, 2012

    Purdue University, Indianapolis

  • B.A. in Religious Studies, 2012

    Indiana University, Indianapolis


Desiccation and Diversity in Dryland Mosses; The 3D Moss Project

An NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity Project; population genetics & phylogenetics of Syntrichia

Extreme female-biased sex ratios

Comparing genotypic and phenotypic sex ratios in Syntrichia caninervis, which has one of the most extreme female-biased sex ratio of any plant

Spatial phylogenetics of vascular plants in the Mojave National Preserve

In collaboration with non-profit Blueprint Earth, an assessment of the phylogenetic diversity of a unique region of the Mojave Desert

The role of natural UV radiation in biology of desert mosses

Combined field and lab experiments on Mojave Desert Syntrichia caninervis

Recent Publications

Natural ultraviolet radiation exposure alters photosynthetic biology and improves recovery from desiccation in a desert moss

Plants in dryland ecosystems experience extreme daily and seasonal fluctuations in light, temperature, and water availability. We used …

To dry perchance to live: insights from the genome of the desiccation-tolerant biocrust moss 𝙎𝙮𝙣𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙖 𝙘𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙫𝙞𝙨

With global climate change, water scarcity threatens whole agro/ecosystems. The desert moss Syntrichia caninervis, an extremophile, …


Recent & Upcoming Talks

Adaptation, acclimation, and refugia- How mosses survive and thrive in the desert

While the thought of mosses may conjure up a scene of a damp, dark forest, mosses are actually common in deserts. This talk will cover some of my recent research on the genetic, physiological, and ecological adaptations that mosses in the genus Syntrichia (Pottiaceae) have to survive in the high light and low water habitat of California’s Mojave Desert.

Recent Posts

Wonders of a dryland moss

I co-led virtual workshop exploring the dimensions of biodiversity in the dryland moss genus Syntrichia.

NICAR 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana

A scientist attends a data journalism conference to learn science communication from the pros.