Kyra N Krakos

PhD Student, Washington University in St Louis


MY BOTANICAL STORY (so far)

The first scientific experiment I ever did was not a glowing success in my opinion. The main problem was that I was six years old and had difficulty with the concept of great amounts of time. After listening closely as my father read the geologic history of earth from my Child's First Encyclopedia, I set out with grim determination to make oil. It seemed a worthwhile and profitable idea, and really, not that difficult. I mentally ticked off the needs: plants, heat, time, and pressure. Ambitious, I collected walnut tree leaves, loaded them down with bricks, set them in the hot sun, and patiently waited a week. A
week, to a six year old, is just about 150 million years. The outcome was slimy leaves. Devastated I went to my father, and found him to be delighted with my report. Why? Because I had recorded each step of my procedure meticulously, and I had maintained carefully written down observations all week. He knew I had the instincts of a true scientist. Those instincts have led me to Botany.

My undergraduate and graduate years have been filled with unique opportunities that have given me both practical research experience and exposure to many areas of biology.

Kyra N Krakos, SEM image of Malvaceae pollen and a nitidulid beetle

Undergraduate Years:
While attending BYU as an undergraduate, I became interested in ethnobotany and trained in practical ethnobotanical field methods, as well as the collection and processing of plant samples for drug research. Our lab’s research was primarily with the Gosiute Indian tribes and desert plants. My own research project focused on the use of plants in times of famine by the Gosiute Indian tribes. I conducted interviews, collected specimens, and ran plant density transects, specifically focusing on the history and use of Calochortus nuttalli. In the summer I worked as a field botanist in charge of data collection and analysis on a conservation biology team studying the ecology of water systems in Utah canyons. The following summer, I was invited to participate in the International Biodiversity Masters Course at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Hawaii. There, I and fifteen others from around the world took classes in rainforest biology field techniques. While in Hawaii, I researched plant-pollinator interactions, looking specifically at nectar robbing as a problem resulting from invasive species.

Kyra N Krakos with Oenothera pilosella

Masters Years:
As a Masters student at BYU, my research focused again in the tropics. My thesis advisor was Dr. Gary Booth. I applied for a fellowship and secured funding for three projects at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Kauai. The first project was a study of the pollination of the native Gossypium by a nitidulid beetle. I looked at both the breeding and pollination system of this rare Hawaiin endemic Malvaceae. The second project was a study of two native Hibiscus species that used extra-floral nectaries to attract coccinellid beetles for defense against mites. The third project was a study of the nectar robbing of an endangered Hibiscus species that has lost its original honeycreeper bird pollinator. I set up a lab in the Kauai Gardens and completed these three projects.

Kyra N Krakos, Pollen and pollen tubes in Gossypium tomentosum

Overlapping many areas of my Masters research was scan electron microscopy. I incorporated SEM into the work on the Kauai Malvaceae species, using the microscope to look at pollen location, beetle structure, and plant morphology. SEM was also used to look at the extra-floral nectarines in Malvaceae. During my time as a Masters student I was head of the Plant Toxicology lab and managed two separate undergraduate teams working on drug research in natural products from desert plants and plants gathered from Africa.

I completed both my undergraduate degree and Masters degree at Brigham Young University. In between my undergraduate and graduate studies I took three years to have my son and focus on raising him. When he was 3, I became a single parent, and returned to graduate school to begin my Master’s work. Those two years were rich and wonderful. My son Jack became well-known in the lab, and was the only preschooler who could explain the Krebs Cycle. He was with me as I did my field work in Kauai. He walked beside me as I was awarded my degree.

Kyra N Krakos Hand feeding a juvenile Shama thrush

Current Research
I am now a 3rd year doctoral candidate in the Evolution, Ecology, and Population Biology Program at Washington University in St Louis. My advisor is Dr. Peter Raven. I am also a student researcher with the Missouri Botanical Garden and visiting researcher with the Harvard University Herbarium. My current research interests center on plant evolution and ecology, with an emphasis in plant reproductive systems.

My dissertation research is on the role of plant reproductive systems in explaining the species diversity within Oenothera (Onagraceae). I get very excited about my research in the Onagraceae, the evening primrose family. Onagraceae is a useful model for analyzing the role of reproductive biology in plant evolution. Recent molecular phylogenetic studies have clarified relationships within Oenothera, and the diverse pollination systems within Oenothera section Gaura make it particularly suitable for exploring the interplay of ecological and evolutionary processes. I hypothesize that shifts in reproductive traits towards specialization drive speciation events and explain the high species diversity in Onagraceae. I address this on a broad comparative level by first investigating reproductive traits in three areas: the pollination ecology, breeding system, and floral traits for all 42 described Oenothera species within a well-supported branch of the genus that includes sections Kneiffia, Paradoxus, Megapterium, Peniophyllum, and Gaura. I then map those traits onto a molecular phylogeny to address the paradox of ecological generalization and evolutionary specialization.

Kyra N Krakos, Syrphid fly on the Missouri glade endemic Oenothera linifolia

During my time as a graduate student I have also conducted research at Point Reyes National Park looking at the demographics and reproductive biology of six Cirsium species. In collaboration with an undergraduate research student that I am mentoring, we are looking at the ecology of two ecomorphs of a glade endemic, Oenothera linifolia.

Overall, my primary interests are in plant evolution, ecology and systematics, as well as the ecological factors that influence these processes and the conservation of biodiversity. I am most interested in questions relating to the evolutionary history and future of plant populations. My focus is on further research in pollination biology. What processes give rise to adaptive radiation and diversification? What is the evolutionary history of particular plant groups? How does the fitness of a plant determine its distribution? What are the consequences a plant species faces when extinction happens at varying trophic levels? What relevance does this information have for conservation of species, whether rare or widespread? Ultimately, I wish to direct a research program that focuses on ecological and evolutionary questions in plant systems.

Kyra N Krakos, Shaw glade, Missouri


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