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Chelsea Smith

Office: ANSP, Botany, Room 502

Research Interests:

Plant systematics, Apocynaceae, plant-herbivore interactions, plant chemical defense, macroevolution, phylogenomics


After completing by BA in Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, I began working at the Academy of Natural Sciences and gained an appreciation for herbaria and plant systematics. I have continued with this interest in plant phylogenetics, studying Apocynaceae, the dogbane and milkweed family. I am looking specifically at the macroevolution of the biosynthesis of one group of defensive compounds (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) that Apocynaceae produces as protection from herbivores. These alkaloids actually attract specialist herbivores, like Danainae (milkweed and clearwing butterflies), and co-evolution between milkweeds and milkweed butterflies may explain the presence of this defense in Apocynaceae. Through molecular analysis, I hope to better understand the current phylogenetic pattern of these alkaloids thoughout the family Apocynaceae, as well as the pattern of alkaloids within the plants themselves.