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Arnold Arboretum
Elena Kramer

Elena M. Kramer

Professor of Biology, Dept. of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

1300 Centre Street
Boston, MA 02131


PhD Yale University 1999
BA Brandeis University 1993

Research Interests

Our laboratory is very broadly interested in the evolution of floral morphology. We use molecular, morphological, and phylogenetic approaches to study how flowers have changed over the course of evolutionary time. Research projects in the lab cover a diverse set of topics, including gene lineage evolution and the effects of gene duplication, the morphological diversification of floral parts such as petals and fruits, and the evolutionary and ecological significance of pollinator interactions.

Currently, our major research focus is the lower eudicot model system Aquilegia (columbine). Aquilegia (Ranunculaceae) has been the subject of ecological, evolutionary and genetic studies for over 50 years. The genus consists of approximately 70 perennial taxa distributed in temperate North America, Europe, and Asia and is noted for the nectar spurs that occur on each of the five petals of its flowers. These spurs are tubular outgrowths of the petals with a nectary at their base. Animals probe these tubes to obtain nectar and in doing so pollinate the plants. Although all species exhibit this general floral bauplan, the genus is remarkable for wide variation in floral morphology and color associated with different pollinators. Floral features among species can range, for example, in nectar spur length (from < 1cm to > 12 cm), petal blade length (from 0 cm to > 3 cm), flower orientation (from pendant to upright), and flower color (including blue, purple, red, yellow, green, and white species).

Columbines also occur in diverse habitats, including shaded forests, alpine zones, desert springs, and serpentine outcrops. Some species have dramatic latitudinal and altitudinal ranges such as A. formosa (southern California to Alaska; sea level to 10,000 ft) and A. canadensis (Texas and Georgia to Canada). Thus, striking ranges of habitat occur both within and between species. We are using Aquilegia to study the genetic basis of floral novelty, especially the petal spur and a unique fifth organ identity in Aquilegia, the staminodium. In addition, we are annotating and functionally characterizing a wide range of relevant gene families, including the small RNA complement.

For my sabbatical at the Arnold Arboretum, I will be working on a range of manuscripts as well as (hopefully) making significant progress on a book entitled “Plant Developmental Evolution” to be published by Princeton University Press.

Selected Publications

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