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

Genotypic confirmation of a biased phenotypic sex ratio in a dryland moss using restriction fragment length polymorphisms

Premise: In dioicous mosses, sex is determined by a single U (female, ♀) or V (male, ♂) chromosome. Although a 1 : 1 sex ratio is …

Transcriptomic effects of acute ultraviolet radiation exposure on two 𝙎𝙮𝙣𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙖 mosses

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is a major environmental stressor for terrestrial plants. Here we investigated genetic responses to acute …


Recent & Upcoming Talks

The secret lives of desert moss

Desert plants experience extreme fluctuations in light, temperature, and water availability. These intense conditions shape the development, life history, and evolutionary trajectory of desert mosses.

Bringing to light the effects of full-spectrum sunlight on a desert moss

Genetic, physiological, and ecological adaptations that mosses in the family Pottiaceae have developed to survive the challenges of high light and low water habitats.

How mosses thrive in the desert: Adaptation, acclimation, and refugia

A summary of some key adaptations in and my latest eco-physiology research on the Mojave Desert moss Syntrichia caninervis.

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.