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People

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William (Ned) Friedman

DIRECTOR OF THE ARNOLD ARBORETUM OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY
ARNOLD PROFESSOR OF ORGANISMIC AND EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY
FACULTY FELLOW OF THE ARNOLD ARBORETUM OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY

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My research program focuses on the organismic interfaces between developmental, phylogenetic and evolutionary biology. Within the past fifteen years, remarkable advances in the study of the phylogenetic relationships of plants have provided the raw materials for critical studies of character evolution. Armed with hypotheses of relationships among organisms, I seek to explore how patterns of morphology, anatomy and cell biology have evolved through the modification of developmental processes. My work is primarily focused on the origin and subsequent diversification of flowering plants, Darwin’s “abominable mystery.”

Laura Clerx

RESEARCH ASSISTANT

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As a research assistant in the Friedman Lab, I study early evolutionary thought, with a focus on biologists (especially botanists) who made contributions to evolutionary theory, both prior to and concurrent with Charles Darwin. More broadly, I am interested in examining evolutionary theory through the lens of the history and philosophy of science, and learning how developments in these fields have influenced the interaction between science and religion in modern society. Before joining the Friedman lab, I worked as the lab manager of the Templer Forest Ecology and Biogeochemistry Lab at Boston University. I received my BA in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, with a secondary field in English Literature, from Harvard College.

Ellie Mendelson

RESEARCH ASSISTANT

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I contribute to a variety of projects related to plant evolution and morphology. For my undergraduate thesis, I studied the fruit developmental network in early diverging angiosperms Austrobaileya scandens and Illicium floridanum with the Ambrose Lab at the New York Botanical Garden. I am passionate about science communication and accessibility, and love sharing plant science with people of all ages. Broadly, I am interested in asking questions about how the evolution of complex structures has informed the way that plants interact with each other, symbionts, and the surrounding environment. I received my B.A. in biology from Brandeis University in 2020.

Kristel Schoonderwoerd

Kristel Schoonderwoerd

GRADUATE STUDENT

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Plants cannot predict the future any better than humans, even though the remarkable synchronization of their vegetative and reproductive growth with seasonal variation—in temperature, precipitation, and day length—might suggest otherwise. I am interested in how (and why) processes of development and differentiation in woody plants of the temperate world have harmonized with seasonal fluctuations in a variety of different ways. For my Master’s thesis, I worked on seed development in Franklinia alatamaha (Theaceae), a species that divides its seed development between two consecutive growing seasons, with a hiatus in winter. My current interest is the diversity of resting bud morphology and architecture in trees and shrubs. My project focuses on the particularly pronounced interspecific variation in bud structure in the walnut family (Juglandaceae).

Jacob Suissa

GRADUATE STUDENT

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I am a plant biologist focused on the interface between structure, function, and evolution. I use this framework to explore how diverse phenotypic traits have evolved across geologic time and how they function in a whole-plant context. I answer these questions using ferns, a diverse clade with over 11,000 species and a roughly 400-million-year history. My research philosophy is that deep insights on the evolution of key innovations or diverse traits can be made by integrating comprehensive phylogenetic analyses across thousands of species, with targeted anatomical, physiological, and developmental investigation of key organisms. During my doctoral work, I have applied this framework and philosophy to develop an integrative research program focused on the evolution and functional consequences of the primary water conducting system in ferns.

Alexandria (Ali) Pete

GRADUATE STUDENT

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Angiosperms should be appreciated as they are beautiful to observe, represent a large part of the diversity of life on earth, and serve as a major food source for humans. To fully understand them, it is necessary to acquire a comprehensive and clear picture of their embryology and life cycles. As a plant and agricultural biologist, I am fascinated by the intersection of evolutionary history and plant development. Specifically, I am interested in studying the development, function, and evolution of perisperm, the theory of interparental conflict, and the double fertilization of angiosperms.