- Botanical Taxonomist
- Li Lab
My recent research interest has been botanical and horticultural systematics. The former is to estimate evolutionary relationships of important plant groups (at different taxonomic levels: order, family, genus, and species). Such efforts help define evolutionarily natural groups and provide guidance for other comparative research such as taxonomic revision, plant breeding, cultivar selection, and developmental genetics. The latter aspect of my research interest is to apply biological tools to the study of horticulturally and economically important plants including species and their horticultural varieties. These tools include anatomical, developmental, and molecular techniques.
Another area of my research interest is to use phylogenetics to study biogeographic patterns and character evolution. Examples include my publications on phylogeny and biogeography of several plant genera, including Taxus, Torreya, Chamaecyparis, Hamamelis, Stewartia, and Cercis. These studies shed light on the origin of the well-known eastern Asian-eastern North American plant disjunction. The formation of Himalayas in the late Oligocene had a huge impact on the biological diversification in that area. I am interested in using phylogenetic studies to elucidate the correlation of the uplift of the Himalayas and the diversification of species and lineage of specious genera such as Acer and Rhododendron.
Plant conservation is another area of my research interest. Plants are increasingly threatened by the economic development in the world and this is especially true in devloping countries; many plants have become rare and some may have gone from the wild. Both in situ and ex situ conservations are needed to protect plant diversity for the good of mankind for generations to come. In my lab we use molecular tools to study genetic diversity of rare and endangered plants and establish gene and DNA material banks of these plants. This effort is closely tied with the development of the living collections of the Arnold Arboretum.