• Kathleen M. Pryer

  • Professor
  • Duke Herbarium
  • 358 Bio Sci Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
  • Campus Box 90338
  • Phone: (919) 660-7380
  • Homepage
  • Secondary web page
  • Overview

    My research focuses on understanding the evolutionary relationships of ancient land plants, especially ferns and horsetails, by integrating evidence from morphology, molecules (DNA sequence data from multiple genes), and the fossil record. I use an explicit phylogenetic framework to examine the morphological evolution of various sporophytic and gametophytic characters within vascular plants, and to gain insight into the evolution of various life history traits and the body plans that typify vascular plants. A phylogenetic perspective also informs my molecular evolutionary studies that attempt to elucidate why we observe remarkable rate heterogeneity in chloroplast genes in land plant phylogeny.
  • Specialties

    • Vascular Plants
  • Education

      • Ph.D.,
      • Department of Botany,
      • Duke University,
      • 1995
      • M.S.,
      • University of Guelph (Canada),
      • 1981
      • B.S.,
      • McGill University (Canada),
      • 1976
  • Awards, Honors and Distinctions

      • NSF CAREER Award (Early Development Career Award),
      • May 2004
      • Lawrence Memorial Award,
      • Hunt Institute, Carnegie-Mellon University,
      • December 1994
      • John Macoun Travel Bursary,
      • Canadian Botanical Association,
      • December 1993
      • Lionel Cinq Mars Award,
      • Canadian Botanical Association,
      • December 1993
      • Edgar T. Wherry Award,
      • December 1988
  • Selected Publications

      • CJ Rothfels, A Larsson, FW Li, EM Sigel, L Huiet, DO Burge, M Ruhsam, SW Graham, DW Stevenson, GK Wong, P Korall and KM Pryer.
      • (2013).
      • Transcriptome-mining for single-copy nuclear markers in ferns..
      • PLoS One
      • ,
      • 8
      • (10)
      • ,
      • e76957.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      BACKGROUND: Molecular phylogenetic investigations have revolutionized our understanding of the evolutionary history of ferns-the second-most species-rich major group of vascular plants, and the sister clade to seed plants. The general absence of genomic resources available for this important group of plants, however, has resulted in the strong dependence of these studies on plastid data; nuclear or mitochondrial data have been rarely used. In this study, we utilize transcriptome data to design primers for nuclear markers for use in studies of fern evolutionary biology, and demonstrate the utility of these markers across the largest order of ferns, the Polypodiales. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We present 20 novel single-copy nuclear regions, across 10 distinct protein-coding genes: ApPEFP_C, cryptochrome 2, cryptochrome 4, DET1, gapCpSh, IBR3, pgiC, SQD1, TPLATE, and transducin. These loci, individually and in combination, show strong resolving power across the Polypodiales phylogeny, and are readily amplified and sequenced from our genomic DNA test set (from 15 diploid Polypodiales species). For each region, we also present transcriptome alignments of the focal locus and related paralogs-curated broadly across ferns-that will allow researchers to develop their own primer sets for fern taxa outside of the Polypodiales. Analyses of sequence data generated from our genomic DNA test set reveal strong effects of partitioning schemes on support levels and, to a much lesser extent, on topology. A model partitioned by codon position is strongly favored, and analyses of the combined data yield a Polypodiales phylogeny that is well-supported and consistent with earlier studies of this group. CONCLUSIONS: The 20 single-copy regions presented here more than triple the single-copy nuclear regions available for use in ferns. They provide a much-needed opportunity to assess plastid-derived hypotheses of relationships within the ferns, and increase our capacity to explore aspects of fern evolution previously unavailable to scientific investigation.

      • P Korall and KM Pryer.
      • (2013).
      • Global biogeography of scaly tree ferns (Cyatheaceae): evidence for Gondwanan vicariance and limited transoceanic dispersal.
      • Journal of Biogeography
      • ,
      • 40
      • (2)
      • ,
      • in press.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      Aim: Scaly tree ferns, Cyatheaceae, are a well-supported group of mostly tree-forming ferns found throughout the tropics, the subtropics and the south-temperate zone. Fossil evidence shows that the lineage originated in the Late Jurassic period. We reconstructed large-scale historical biogeographical patterns of Cyatheaceae and tested the hypothesis that some of the observed distribution patterns are in fact compatible, in time and space, with a vicariance scenario related to the break-up of Gondwana. Location: Tropics, subtropics and south-temperate areas of the world. Methods: The historical biogeography of Cyatheaceae was analysed in a maximum likelihood framework using Lagrange. The 78 ingroup taxa are representative of the geographical distribution of the entire family. The phylogenies that served as a basis for the analyses were obtained by Bayesian inference analyses of mainly previously published DNA sequence data using MrBayes. Lineage divergence dates were estimated in a Bayesian Markov chain Monte Carlo framework using beast. Results: Cyatheaceae originated in the Late Jurassic in either South America or Australasia. Following a range expansion, the ancestral distribution of the marginate-scaled clade included both these areas, whereas Sphaeropteris is reconstructed as having its origin only in Australasia. Within the marginate-scaled clade, reconstructions of early divergences are hampered by the unresolved relationships among the Alsophila, Cyathea and Gymnosphaera lineages. Nevertheless, it is clear that the occurrence of the Cyathea and Sphaeropteris lineages in South America may be related to vicariance, whereas transoceanic dispersal needs to be inferred for the range shifts seen in Alsophila and Gymnosphaera. Main conclusions: The evolutionary history of Cyatheaceae involves both Gondwanan vicariance scenarios as well as long-distance dispersal events. The number of transoceanic dispersals reconstructed for the family is rather few when compared with other fern lineages. We suggest that a causal relationship between reproductive mode (outcrossing) and dispersal limitations is the most plausible explanation for the pattern observed. © 2013 The Authors Journal of Biogeography Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

      • FW Li, KM Pryer and MD Windham.
      • (2012).
      • Gaga, a new fern genus segregated from cheilanthes (pteridaceae).
      • Systematic Botany
      • ,
      • 37
      • (4)
      • ,
      • 845-860.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      Ongoing molecular phylogenetic studies of cheilanthoid ferns confirm that the genus Cheilanthes (Pteridaceae) is polyphyletic. A monophyletic group of species within the hemionitid clade informally called the "C. marginata group" is here shown to be distinct from its closest relatives (the genus Aspidotis) and phylogenetically distant from the type species of Cheilanthes. This group is here segregated from Cheilanthes as the newly described genus, Gaga . In this study, we use molecular data from four DNA regions (plastid: matK, rbcL, trnG-R; and nuclear: gapCp) together with spore data to circumscribe the morphological and geographical boundaries of the new genus and investigate reticulate evolution within the group. Gaga is distinguished from Aspidotis by its rounded to attenuate (vs. mucronate) segment apices, minutely bullate margins of mature leaves (vs. smooth at 40 ×), and less prominently lustrous and striate adaxial blade surfaces. The new genus is distinguished from Cheilanthes s. s. by its strongly differentiated, inframarginal pseudoindusia, the production of 64 small or 32 large spores (vs. 32 small or 16 large) per sporangium, and usually glabrous leaf blades. A total of nineteen species are recognized within Gaga; seventeen new combinations are made, and two new species, Gaga germanotta and Gaga monstraparva , are described. © Copyright 2012 by the American Society of Plant Taxonomists.

      • JB Beck, JR Allison, KM Pryer and MD Windham.
      • (2012).
      • Identifying multiple origins of polyploid taxa: a multilocus study of the hybrid cloak fern (Astrolepis integerrima; Pteridaceae)..
      • Am J Bot
      • ,
      • 99
      • (11)
      • ,
      • 1857-1865.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Molecular studies have shown that multiple origins of polyploid taxa are the rule rather than the exception. To understand the distribution and ecology of polyploid species and the evolutionary significance of polyploidy in general, it is important to delineate these independently derived lineages as accurately as possible. Although gene flow among polyploid lineages and backcrossing to their diploid parents often confound this process, such post origin gene flow is very infrequent in asexual polyploids. In this study, we estimate the number of independent origins of the apomictic allopolyploid fern Astrolepis integerrima, a morphologically heterogeneous species most common in the southwestern United States and Mexico, with outlying populations in the southeastern United States and the Caribbean. METHODS: Plastid DNA sequence and AFLP data were obtained from 33 A. integerrima individuals. Phylogenetic analysis of the sequence data and multidimensional clustering of the AFLP data were used to identify independently derived lineages. KEY RESULTS: Analysis of the two datasets identified 10 genetic groups within the 33 analyzed samples. These groups suggest a minimum of 10 origins of A. integerrima in the northern portion of its range, with both putative parents functioning as maternal donors, both supplying unreduced gametes, and both contributing a significant portion of their genetic diversity to the hybrids. CONCLUSIONS: Our results highlight the extreme cryptic genetic diversity and systematic complexity that can underlie a single polyploid taxon.

      • CJ Rothfels, A Larsson, LY Kuo, P Korall, WL Chiou and KM Pryer.
      • (2012).
      • Overcoming deep roots, fast rates, and short internodes to resolve the ancient rapid radiation of eupolypod II ferns..
      • Syst Biol
      • ,
      • 61
      • (3)
      • ,
      • 490-509.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      Backbone relationships within the large eupolypod II clade, which includes nearly a third of extant fern species, have resisted elucidation by both molecular and morphological data. Earlier studies suggest that much of the phylogenetic intractability of this group is due to three factors: (i) a long root that reduces apparent levels of support in the ingroup; (ii) long ingroup branches subtended by a series of very short backbone internodes (the "ancient rapid radiation" model); and (iii) significantly heterogeneous lineage-specific rates of substitution. To resolve the eupolypod II phylogeny, with a particular emphasis on the backbone internodes, we assembled a data set of five plastid loci (atpA, atpB, matK, rbcL, and trnG-R) from a sample of 81 accessions selected to capture the deepest divergences in the clade. We then evaluated our phylogenetic hypothesis against potential confounding factors, including those induced by rooting, ancient rapid radiation, rate heterogeneity, and the Bayesian star-tree paradox artifact. While the strong support we inferred for the backbone relationships proved robust to these potential problems, their investigation revealed unexpected model-mediated impacts of outgroup composition, divergent effects of methods for countering the star-tree paradox artifact, and gave no support to concerns about the applicability of the unrooted model to data sets with heterogeneous lineage-specific rates of substitution. This study is among few to investigate these factors with empirical data, and the first to compare the performance of the two primary methods for overcoming the Bayesian star-tree paradox artifact. Among the significant phylogenetic results is the near-complete support along the eupolypod II backbone, the demonstrated paraphyly of Woodsiaceae as currently circumscribed, and the well-supported placement of the enigmatic genera Homalosorus, Diplaziopsis, and Woodsia.

      • E Schuettpelz and KM Pryer.
      • (2009).
      • Evidence for a Cenozoic radiation of ferns in an angiosperm-dominated canopy..
      • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
      • ,
      • 106
      • (27)
      • ,
      • 11200-11205.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      In today's angiosperm-dominated terrestrial ecosystems, leptosporangiate ferns are truly exceptional--accounting for 80% of the approximately 11,000 nonflowering vascular plant species. Recent studies have shown that this remarkable diversity is mostly the result of a major leptosporangiate radiation beginning in the Cretaceous, following the rise of angiosperms. This pattern is suggestive of an ecological opportunistic response, with the proliferation of flowering plants across the landscape resulting in the formation of many new niches--both on forest floors and within forest canopies--into which leptosporangiate ferns could diversify. At present, one-third of leptosporangiate species grow as epiphytes in the canopies of angiosperm-dominated tropical rain forests. However, we know too little about the evolutionary history of epiphytic ferns to assess whether or not their diversification was in fact linked to the establishment of these forests, as would be predicted by the ecological opportunistic response hypothesis. Here we provide new insight into leptosporangiate diversification and the evolution of epiphytism by integrating a 400-taxon molecular dataset with an expanded set of fossil age constraints. We find evidence for a burst of fern diversification in the Cenozoic, apparently driven by the evolution of epiphytism. Whether this explosive radiation was triggered simply by the establishment of modern angiosperm-dominated tropical rain forest canopies, or spurred on by some other large-scale extrinsic factor (e.g., climate change) remains to be determined. In either case, it is clear that in both the Cretaceous and Cenozoic, leptosporangiate ferns were adept at exploiting newly created niches in angiosperm-dominated ecosystems.

      • E Schuettpelz and KM Pryer.
      • (2007).
      • Fern phylogeny inferred from 400 leptosporangiate species and three plastid genes.
      • Taxon
      • ,
      • 56
      • (4)
      • ,
      • 1037-1050.
      Publication Description

      In an effort to obtain a solid and balanced approximation of global fern phylogeny to serve as a tool for addressing large-scale evolutionary questions, we assembled and analyzed the most inclusive molecular dataset for leptosporangiate ferns to date. Three plastid genes (rbcL, atpB, atpA), totaling more than 4,000 bp, were sequenced for each of 400 leptosporangiate fern species (selected using a proportional sampling approach) and five outgroups. Maximum likelihood analysis of these data yielded an especially robust phylogeny: 80% of the nodes were supported by a maximum likelihood bootstrap percentage ≥ 70. The scope of our analysis provides unprecedented insight into overall fern relationships, not only delivering additional support for the deepest leptosporangiate divergences, but also uncovering the composition of more recently emerging clades and their relationships to one another.

      • AR Smith, KM Pryer, E Schuettpelz, P Korall, H Schneider and PG Wolf.
      • (2006).
      • A classification for extant ferns.
      • Taxon
      • ,
      • 55
      • (3)
      • ,
      • 705-731.
      Publication Description

      We present a revised classification for extant ferns, with emphasis on ordinal and familial ranks, and a synopsis of included genera. Our classification reflects recently published phylogenetic hypotheses based on both morphological and molecular data. Within our new classification, we recognize four monophyletic classes, 11 monophyletic orders, and 37 families, 32 of which are strongly supported as monophyletic. One new family, Cibotiaceae Korall, is described. The phylogenetic affinities of a few genera in the order Polypodiales are unclear and their familial placements are therefore tentative. Alphabetical lists of accepted genera (including common synonyms), families, orders, and taxa of higher rank are provided.

      • H Schneider, E Schuettpelz, KM Pryer, R Cranfill, S Magallón and R Lupia.
      • (2004).
      • Ferns diversified in the shadow of angiosperms..
      • Nature
      • ,
      • 428
      • (6982)
      • ,
      • 553-557.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      The rise of angiosperms during the Cretaceous period is often portrayed as coincident with a dramatic drop in the diversity and abundance of many seed-free vascular plant lineages, including ferns. This has led to the widespread belief that ferns, once a principal component of terrestrial ecosystems, succumbed to the ecological predominance of angiosperms and are mostly evolutionary holdovers from the late Palaeozoic/early Mesozoic era. The first appearance of many modern fern genera in the early Tertiary fossil record implies another evolutionary scenario; that is, that the majority of living ferns resulted from a more recent diversification. But a full understanding of trends in fern diversification and evolution using only palaeobotanical evidence is hindered by the poor taxonomic resolution of the fern fossil record in the Cretaceous. Here we report divergence time estimates for ferns and angiosperms based on molecular data, with constraints from a reassessment of the fossil record. We show that polypod ferns (> 80% of living fern species) diversified in the Cretaceous, after angiosperms, suggesting perhaps an ecological opportunistic response to the diversification of angiosperms, as angiosperms came to dominate terrestrial ecosystems.

      • KM Pryer, H Schneider, AR Smith, R Cranfill, PG Wolf, JS Hunt and SD Sipes.
      • (2001).
      • Horsetails and ferns are a monophyletic group and the closest living relatives to seed plants..
      • Nature
      • ,
      • 409
      • (6820)
      • ,
      • 618-622.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      Most of the 470-million-year history of plants on land belongs to bryophytes, pteridophytes and gymnosperms, which eventually yielded to the ecological dominance by angiosperms 90 Myr ago. Our knowledge of angiosperm phylogeny, particularly the branching order of the earliest lineages, has recently been increased by the concurrence of multigene sequence analyses. However, reconstructing relationships for all the main lineages of vascular plants that diverged since the Devonian period has remained a challenge. Here we report phylogenetic analyses of combined data--from morphology and from four genes--for 35 representatives from all the main lineages of land plants. We show that there are three monophyletic groups of extant vascular plants: (1) lycophytes, (2) seed plants and (3) a clade including equisetophytes (horsetails), psilotophytes (whisk ferns) and all eusporangiate and leptosporangiate ferns. Our maximum-likelihood analysis shows unambiguously that horsetails and ferns together are the closest relatives to seed plants. This refutes the prevailing view that horsetails and ferns are transitional evolutionary grades between bryophytes and seed plants, and has important implications for our understanding of the development and evolution of plants.

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  • Postdoctoral Students

    • James Beck
      • September, 2007 - August, 2009
      • Assistant Professor, Wichita State University
    • Layne Huiet
      • August, 2007 - June, 2010
      • Senior Research Scientist, Pryer Lab, Duke University
    • Eric Schuettpelz
      • May, 2007 - July 31, 2009
      • Research Botanist and Assistant Curator, Smithsonian Institution, D.C.
    • David Hearn
      • March, 2005 - February, 2006
      • Assistant Professor, Towson University, MD
    • Petra Korall
      • July 1, 2004 - December 31, 2006
      • Associate Professor, Uppsala University, Sweden
    • Sabine Hennequin
      • 2004 - December, 2007
      • Maitre de Conferences, Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris 6).
    • Michal Skakuj
      • October 01, 2003 - July 31, 2005
      • Ph.D., University of Gdansk, Poland
    • Nathalie Nagalingum
      • August, 2003 - July, 2007
      • Research Scientist, New South Wales Herbarium, Sydney, Australia
    • Jennifer Steinbachs
      • 1999-2000
      • Ph.D., University of Connecticut, 1999. Currently deputy director of the Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics, Indiana University
    • Stefan Zoller
      • 1999 - 2001
      • Ph.D., Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, 1999. Currently a postdoc at the North Carolina Super Computing Center.
    • Harald Schneider
      • 1999-2001
      • Ph.D., University of Zurich, Switzerland, 1996. Currently an Assistant Professor at the Albrecht-von-Haller Institut of Plant Sciences, University of Göttingen, Germany.
  • PhD Students

    • Fay-Wei Li
      • August, 2010 - present
    • Erin Sigel
      • August, 2008 - present
    • Amanda Grusz
      • August, 2007 - present
Kathleen M. Pryer
  • background