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
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.
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.
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.
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.