Jenna Ekwealor

Jenna Ekwealor

Biodiversity Genomics Postdoctoral Researcher

Smithsonian Institution

I am an organismal biologist who integrates plant physiology, phylogenetics, ecology, and evolutionary geneticsto understand plant evolution and adaptations to life on land. In particular, I focus on three areas: (I) the mechanisms of stress tolerance, (II) the processes that generate and maintain diversity of life history and sexual systems, and (III) the evolutionary history of adaptation to extreme environments. I am fascinated by the very small: those organisms that are easily overlooked. I am also excited by extremophiles: those that can 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 water is present), drying and going quiescent when water is absent. My research to date has focused on the moss genus Syntrichia, whose species are key primary producers in biological soil crusts (biocrusts), complex communities of bryophytes, lichens, and other microorganisms living on the soil surface of drylands.


BLACK LIVES MATTER

Interests

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

Education

  • 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

Featured

Research

Adaptation to extreme environments

Mosses and other biocrust organisms have evolved vegetative desiccation tolerance—the ability to equilibrate to dry air, pausing all metabolic activity until rehydration—making them an excellent model system for studying adaptation to the desiccating and irradiating conditions of terrestrial life.

Desiccation and diversity in dryland mosses; The 3D Moss Project

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

Generation and maintenance of diversity of life history and sexual systems

Although a balanced sex ratio based on sex chromosomes is expected in spores after meiosis, S. caninervis is notable for its extremely strong sex ratio bias and low frequency of sexual reproduction.

Spatial phylogenetics 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

Stress tolerance in dryland mosses

Mosses and other biocrust organisms have evolved vegetative desiccation tolerance—the ability to equilibrate to dry air, pausing all metabolic activity until rehydration—making them an excellent model system for studying stress tolerance mechanisms.

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

Did the dryland moss genus 𝙎𝙮𝙣𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙖 diversify with aridification of the northern hemisphere?

The most extensive terrestrial biome, drylands cover more than one-third of Earth’s continental surface. The moss genus Syntrichia occurs worldwide in a variety of habitats and is comprised of about 90 species, many of which are dryland specialists.

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.

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.

Skills

R

Python

Git

HTML

Statistics

Microscopy

Contact