Susan Swensen Witherup

Professor, Biology

Current Research & Funding

Ford Fund, Provost Academic Project Award, and Department of Biology: 2014-15

Population Genetic Analysis of Scaevola in Puerto Rico

My students and I have begun work on a population genetic analysis of the Fan Flower (Scaevola plumier) in Puerto Rico.  This plant is also known by its common name, Inkberry, because of its black fruits.  I am interested in this plant because of its adaptations to oceanic dispersal (floating seeds!) and its evolution on islands. Inkberry lives primarily on coastal dunes. In various regions of the Caribbean, its habitat is being lost to an invasive Fan Flower (Scaevola taccada), also known as White Inkberry. The invasive species is commonly planted as an ornamental shrub at hotels and various other beachfront locations, but it is native to the Indo-Pacific.  We plan to collect samples of the native Inkberry to look at levels of genetic diversity as a first step to characterizing this species. We would like to compare genetic diversity of populations with and without the invasive species present.  The goals of this research are to: 1) provide experiences and opportunities for my research students; 2) provide a terrestrial research component for students in the Biology of Oceanic Islands course (3-4 cr) and associated Experiences in Biology (3 cr) January course.