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University of Ottawa

 

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Le Mont Jacques-Cartier, Gaspésie, Québec, 2008

Dr. Julian R. Starr

Associate Professor,

University of Ottawa

(Office: 286 Gendron)

                 

Mailing Address:

Biology Department, University of Ottawa, 30 Marie Curie, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1N 6N5. (Directions to office)

Tel: (613) 562-5800 ext. 6100

Fax: (613) 562-5486

E-mail: jstarr@uottawa.ca

 

Laboratory:

Center for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics (CAREG)

CAREG 313, 20 Marie-Curie

Tel: (613) 562-5800 ext. 2068

 


Research Interests:

Systematics is the science that names, classifies and determines the evolutionary relationships of living things. My research spans the breadth of systematic problems from the identification and circumscription of species, to the biogeography, evolution and phylogenetics of higher-level taxa. To resolve such diverse subjects, my laboratory uses both traditional methods and modern molecular techniques (e.g., DNA sequencing, microsatellites, AFLPs, etc.).

Family Cyperaceae:

My primary research focus is on the plant family Cyperaceae (sedges), a truly remarkable group characterized by its exceptional diversity (ca. 5000 species), varied habitats (deserts to rain forests), unusual cytology (2n = 12 to 112) and diverse biogeographical patterns (e.g., Gondwanan, Bipolar). My long-term objectives in this family are: (1) to discover the evolutionary relationships of Cyperaceae clades; (2) to reveal historical patterns of character evolution and phytogeography within sedges; and (3) to produce predictive classifications that can be used by scientists, conservationists and the general public alike.

Some Current Projects:

(All these projects offer numerous opportunities for graduate and postdoctoral work)

 

(1) Sedge DNA Barcoding: So far we have completed a preliminary study to determine which of the proposed chloroplast barcoding loci would be best for sedges (Starr et al. 2009; PDF on Publications Page) and we recently published a paper in Molecular Ecology Resources that demonstrates 100% species resolution when a regional approach to DNA barcoding is taken for the sedges of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (project led by former Honour’s student Jessica LeClerc-Blain in collaboration with Jeff Saarela and Roger Bull at the Canadian Museum of Nature; LeClerc-Blain et al. 2010). The most ambitious project of them all, the goal of barcoding all 483 species of Carex and Kobresia recognised in the Flora of North America, North of Mexico, is still underway (project led by my graduate student Brianna Chouinard in collaboration with Robert Naczi at the New York Botanical Garden). Brianna has finished her M.Sc. research and we are working hard to get it published as soon as possible (only 14 taxa escaped her for all of FNA). I am currently searching for students that would be interested in working on some of the taxonomic problems that were highlighted by her research (new species?).

(2) Systematics of Cyperaceae: I am currently finishing up a preliminary project on the phylogeny of the family using three chloroplast (matK, ndhF, rbcL) and one nuclear gene (ADC). The results from this analysis provide extremely good support for relationships and afford the kind of statistical support necessary to make lasting taxonomic changes at the tribal and generic levels in Cyperaceae. The first exciting results of this research have just been published in Kew Bulletin (Gilmour et al. 2013) by my former M.Sc. student Claire Gilmour, a new genus, Calliscirpus C.N. Gilmour, J.R. Starr & Naczi, for two narrow endemics to the California Floristic Province, C. criniger (=Scirpus criniger A. Gray or Eriophorum criniger (A. Gray) Beetle) and a new species, C. brachythrix. For those of you that have visited my website before you may not have realised that C. brachythrix has been staring you in the face for years! The second plant on the top left is the new species, and from the picture you can see the new genus is among the most beautiful and striking to be segregated from Scirpus (the Greek prefix Calli- means ‘beautiful’). A new student of mine, Étienne Léveillé-Bourret, has just arrived from the Université de Montréal to continue with our studies on the hypervariable Cariceae+Dulicheae+Scirpeae clade (>2000 species). He will be focusing on the genus Trichophorum and the separation of Scirpus and Eriophorum in addition to studying floral development in the clade (a collaboration with Dr. Alex Vrijdaghs, University of Leuven). Equally interesting results on other taxonomic problems in Cyperaceae will soon be coming out from research I conducted with Sabina Donadío, a Ph.D. student at the University of Buenos Aires and the Darwinion Institute who spent six months in 2012 in my laboratory on a Canadian Government funded internship to gather molecular data for her Ph.D. Her focus may have been on the genus Tillandsia (“Spanish moss”, Bromeliaceae), but I got her to work on a few sedgey problems too.

(3) Phylogeny and evolution of Carex and tribe Cariceae: This is ongoing research that I have been working on for over a decade. I recently published a review on the subject with Bruce Ford in The Botanical Review (Starr & Ford 2009) where we highlighted the poor representation of Asian taxa in former phylogenies despite their often peculiar morphology and their key phylogenetic position as sister to several major lineages in Cariceae. In April of last year, Bruce and I travelled to Vietnam to collect these key taxa to understanding tribal evolution on a National Geographic Research Grant obtained by Bruce as the Principal Investigator. With our Vietnamese colleagues, Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh (Hanoi University of Science) and Anh Tài (Botany Vietnam Group), and with the help of Jack Regalado (formerly of the Missouri Botanical Garden) we were able to rediscover many morphologically unusual species that had not been collected for 70+ years and were only known from either their holotype or a handful of collections. We now have years of work ahead of us trying to understanding the anatomy, morphology, cytology and phylogenetic position of these extraordinary oddballs and many trips to Vietnam for sure. One thing to note if you read our review above is that despite many exciting discoveries since the first Carex DNA sequence phylogeny (Starr et al. 1999), the relationships of the major clades remain weak. Consequently, few taxonomic changes have been made to the generic and subgeneric classifications of the tribe. I am currently working on the problem with many colleagues and would be happy to see the right graduate student or postdoctoral fellow resolve it once and for all.

(4) Phylogeography and taxonomy of sedges and bipolar species:  Léon Croizat (1952) once said that you could teach an entire course on phytogeography using only examples from Carex and its allies in tribe Cariceae. There are sedge species and groups with almost every imaginable biogeographic pattern (e.g., amphiatlantic, Gondwanan, bipolar). What forces created such extraordinary distributions? Several of my former students have worked on the systematics and phylogeography of two extraordinary arctic-alpine groups Carex nardina (Wayne Sawtell) and Carex capitata (Tamara Villaverde Hidalgo), but there many more wonderful groups to study. So far we have travelled from the arctic to Tierra del Fuego on these projects and who knows where next. These are collaborations that I am conducting with my colleagues Modesto Luceño (Pablo de Olavide University, Sevilla) and Leo Bruederle (University of Colorado, Denver), amongst others.

And many others…

(If you are interested in learning more, please contact me)