Jenna Ekwealor( She/Her/Hers )
Dr. Ekwealor’s research in the Moss Eco-Evo-Physio (MEEP) Lab integrates plant physiology, phylogenetics, and evolutionary genetics to understand the evolution of plant life history and adaptations to life on land. In particular, the MEEP Lab focuses on three areas: (I) the mechanisms of stress tolerance, (II) the processes that generate and maintain diversity of sexual systems, and (III) the evolutionary history of adaptation to extreme environments.
Current research in the lab applies these approaches primarily to a diverse group of mosses in the genus Syntrichia that accomplish incredible physiological feats to inhabit drylands throughout the world. Several Syntrichia species are key primary producers in biological soil crusts (biocrusts), complex and ecologically critical communities of bryophytes, lichens, and other microorganisms living on the soil surface of drylands. Mosses and other biocrust organisms have evolved desiccation tolerance (DT)—the ability to equilibrate to dry air, pausing all metabolic activity until rehydration—making them an excellent model system for studying stress tolerance mechanisms and adaptation to the desiccating and irradiating conditions of terrestrial life. Research in the MEEP Lab aims to understand how the extreme fluctuations in light, temperature, and water availability in harsh desert habitats have shaped the development, life history, and evolutionary trajectory of biocrust mosses in Syntrichia.
Dr. Ekwealor’s approach to research mentoring is to cultivate and follow the sense of wonder in mentees, leading to a more fulfilling experience for the mentee as well as to more interesting scientific endeavors and outcomes. Students in the MEEP Lab are encouraged to wonder and be curious, and students’ differing interests, goals, and perspectives are celebrated. The MEEP Lab aims to be a supportive environment where members at any stage feel comfortable to ask and answer questions and to follow their own unique scientific and educational interests.