Kenneth J. Sytsma

Kenneth J. Sytsma

Professor of Botany
250 Birge Hall
Ph.D. (1983) Washington University
Molecular systematics of vascular plants (Ericales, Myrtales, Onagraceae, Bromeliaceae, and Lamiaceae); Angiosperm Tree of Life; Biogeography; Adaptive radiations on islands
Sytsma's Lab


My research program within plant biosystematics encompasses a diversity of approaches and problems. This diversity reflects not only my broad interests but also my view that biosystematic data accumulation and analysis must be done in a multi-disciplinary environment in order to most fully understand evolutionary processes and patterns. Research interests at present include: (1) molecular systematics, evolution, and biogeography of temperate and tropical families and orders; (2) the Angiosperm Tree of Life project and new classifications of angiosperms (e.g., APGIII); (3) the integration of ecology and phylogenetics with collaborative studies involving adaptive radiations on oceanic islands and montane, high elevation "islands".

•  NSF Biodiversity Project: Roles of functional, phylogenetic, and genetic diversity in structuring and sustaining plant communities through environmental change - PI’s:  Don Waller, Ken Cameron, Ken Sytsma, and Tom Givnish.

•  AToL Project: Collaborative NSF Tree of Life project examining phylogenetic relationships among angiosperms with up to 20 gene regions.

•  Ericales: Collaborative phylogenetic, biogeographic, and morphological study of the diverse order Ericales, including the origin, evolution, and horizontal gene transfer in the holoparasite Mitrastema.

•  Myrtales: Phylogenetic studies of the order and families, especially Onagraceae, Lythraceae, and Combretaceae at the present.

•  Clarkia: Detailed phylogenetic studies of this largely Californian genus in the evening primrose family, with specific interests in speciation, chromosomal evolution, and the rise of the Californian Florisitc Province.

•  Hawaiian Biogeography: Collaborative molecular phylogenetic studies incorporating fossil dating to understand the biogeography and evolution of Hawaiian plants - lobeloids, violets, and nettles.

I teach Plant Systematics (Botany 400) every fall term and Plant Geography (Botany 422) or Vascular Flora of Wisconsin (Botany 401) every spring term. I teach the graduate level Systematics Seminar (Botany 940) with other systematics and evolution faculty each semester.


Some Recent Publications:


Drew, B. T., and K. J. Sytsma. 2011. Testing the monophyly and placement of Lepechinia in the tribe Mentheae (Lamiaceae). Systematic Botany 36: 1038-1049.

Givnish, T. J., M. H. J. Barfuss, B. Van Ee, R. Riina, K. Schulte, R. Horres, P. A. Gonsiska, R. S. Jabaily, D. M. Crayn, J. A. C. Smith, K. Winter, G. K. Brown, T. M. Evans, B. K. Holst, H. Luther, W. Till, G. Zizka, P. E. Berry, and K. J. Sytsma. 2011. Adaptive radiation and diversification in Bromeliaceae:  insights from a 7-locus plastid phylogeny. American Journal of Botany 98: 872-895.

Soltis D. E., S. Smith, N. Cellinese, K. J. Wurdack, D. Tank, S. F. Brockington, N. F. Refulio-Rodriguez, M. J. Moore, B. Carlsward, C. D. Bell, M. Latvis, S. Crawley, C. Black, D. Diouf, Z. Xi, M. A. Gitzendanner, K. J. Sytsma, Y.-L. Qiu, K. W. Hilu, S. R. Manchester, C. C. Davis, M. J. Sanderson, R. Olmstead, W. S. Judd, M. Donoghue, and P. S. Soltis. 2011. Inferring angiosperm phylogeny: 17-gene analyses. American Journal of Botany 98:704-730.

Iltis, H. H., J. C. Hall, T. S. Cochrane, and K. J. Sytsma. 2011. Studies in Cleomaceae I. On the separate recognition of Capparaceae, Cleomaceae, and Brassicaceae. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 98: 28-36.

Jabaily, R. S. and K. J. Sytsma. 2010. Phylogenetics of Puya (Bromeliaceae): placement, major lineages, and evolution of Chilean species. American Journal of Botany 97: 337-356.

Schönenberger, J., M. von Balthazar, and K. J. Sytsma. 2010. Diversity and evolution of floral structure among early diverging lineages in the Ericales. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 365: 437-448.

Havran, J. C., K. J. Sytsma, and H. E. Ballard. 2009.  Evolutionary relationships, inter-island biogeography, and molecular evolution in the Hawaiian violets (Viola: Violaceae). American Journal of Botany 96: 2087-2099.

Givnish, T. J., K. C. Millam, A. R. Mast, T. B. Paterson, T. J. Theim, A. L. Hipp, J. M. Henss,  J. F. Smith, K. R. Wood, and K. J. Sytsma. 2009. Origin, adaptive radiation, and diversification of the Hawaiian lobeliads (Asterales: Campanulaceae). Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 276: 407-416.

Angiosperm Phylogeny Group. 2009. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III. Botanical Journal Linnean Society 161: 105-121.

Katinas, L., J. V. Crisci, R. S. Jabaily, C. Williams, J. Walker, B. Drew, J. M. Bonifacino, and K. J. Sytsma. 2008. Evolution of secondary heads in Nassauviinae (Asteraceae, Mutisieae). American Journal of Botany 95: 229-240.

Walker, J. and K. J. Sytsma. 2007. Staminal evolution in the genus Salvia (Lamiaceae): molecular phylogenetic evidence for multiple origins of the staminal lever. Annals of Botany 100: 375-391.