I am a plant systematist…
which means that I discover and strive to understand the evolutionary history of plants. As a plant systematist, it is my goal to discover the branches on the plant evolutionary tree of life, to document and study the changes that have occurred along those branches during the evolution of plants, and to describe the plant species that are at the tips of those branches.
Most of my scholarly activities have been focused upon the systematics of passionflowers. I published a paper resulting from the work that I completed for my dissertation [Porter-Utley, K. 2007. Passiflora tacanensis, a new species of Passiflora subgenus Decaloba supersection Cieca from Mexico. Brittonia 59(1): 25-28] and completed a revision of Passiflora supersection Cieca; a revision is a large body of work (200+ pages) that includes an evolutionary hypothesis for the group of organisms being studied, descriptions of the species in the group, maps of the distributions of those species, and descriptions of the ecology of each species [Porter-Utley, K. 2014. Revision of Passiflora subgenus Decaloba supersection Cieca (Passifloraceae). Phytokeys 43: 1-224].
Since September of 2007, I have been working with four colleagues (Dr. Peter Jørgensen – Missouri Botanical Garden, Dr. Shawn Krosnick – Southern Arkansas University, Dr. John MacDougal – Harris Stowe State University and Missouri Botanical Garden, and Dr. Lucinda McDade – Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) on a revision of large subgroup of passionflowers (subgenus Decaloba); the subgenus contains 250 species of plants. The project received funding from the Revisionary Syntheses in Systematics (REVSYS) Program through the National Science Foundation (NSF). I and my colleagues are using DNA sequence data, scanning electron microscopy, and observation of fresh and preserved specimens to help us understand the evolution of passionflowers. The project will provide a modern evolutionary framework for the subgenus within which to address questions about the evolution of floral shape, pollination syndromes, floral development, and the biogeographical history of the group. Field expeditions (I worked with colleagues at INECOL, CIIDIR Unidad Oaxaca, HEM, and CICY) focused on the collection of material for our laboratory studies (DNA sequencing, scanning electron microscopy, etc.) and the observation of pollinators and butterfly herbivores. We have completed our first publication resulting from this work [Krosnick, S., K. Porter-Utley, J.M. MacDougal, P. Jørgensen, and L. McDade. 2013. New Insights into the Evolution of the Tiny Passionflowers: Phylogenetic Relationships in Passiflora subgenus Decaloba. Systematic Botany 38 (3): 1-22] and are working a second paper that is focused on the historical biogeography of the subgenus.
I am now attempting to expand my area of botanical expertise. I have recently begun a project to revise the plant family Ochnaceae, a group of plants in the Malpighiales. I received a small amount of money from the KSC Faculty Development Grant program to collect some preliminary molecular data for the different genera in the family. We will see where this new project takes me, but I am excited to be studying a different and very interesting group of tropical trees.
Enjoy exploring my website.