Our lab studies the influence of climate on the composition, structure, and long-term evolution of lowland Neotropical plant communities. We use the fossil pollen record to document plant response to past climate variability. Because pollen and spores are widespread in the terrestrial sediment record, we are able to use these microscopic fossils to study long-term trends in plant ecology and evolution.
We seek to re-imagine the field of paleoecology and expand the range of ecological and evolutionary hypotheses that can be addressed by increasing the throughput, reproducibility, and taxonomic resolution of an unrecognized source of “big data”– the microfossil record. The focus of our current work is on developing microscopy and computer automation methods to improve the quantity and quality of pollen and spore counts. We are exploring different microscopy techniques, image analysis, and machine learning. With these new tools, we aim to develop larger and more comprehensive data sets that will expand the scope of paleoecological research. Our long-term goal is to transform the paleoecological analysis workflow, from imaging to classification to interpretation.
BA, Yale University
SM, The University of Chicago
PhD, The University of Chicago
IB 105 ONL, Environmental Biology (Online)
IB 439, Biogeography
Additional Campus Affiliations
Associate Professor, Plant Biology
Department Affiliate, Geology
Associate Head, Plant Biology
Haselhorst, D. S., Moreno, J. E., & Punyasena, S. W. (2020). Assessing the influence of vegetation structure and phenological variability on pollen-vegetation relationships using a 15-year Neotropical pollen rain record. Journal of Vegetation Science, 31(4), 606-615. https://doi.org/10.1111/jvs.12897
Romero, I. C., Urban, M. A., & Punyasena, S. W. (2020). Airyscan superresolution microscopy: A high-throughput alternative to electron microscopy for the visualization and analysis of fossil pollen. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 276, . https://doi.org/10.1016/j.revpalbo.2020.104192
Mander, L., & Punyasena, S. W. (2018). Fossil pollen and spores in paleoecology. In Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology (pp. 215-234). (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-94265-0_11
Sivaguru, M., Urban, M. A., Fried, G., Wesseln, C. J., Mander, L., & Punyasena, S. W. (2018). Comparative performance of airyscan and structured illumination superresolution microscopy in the study of the surface texture and 3D shape of pollen. Microscopy research and technique, 81(2), 101-114. https://doi.org/10.1002/jemt.22732
Urban, M. A., Barclay, R. S., Sivaguru, M., & Punyasena, S. W. (2018). Cuticle and subsurface ornamentation of intact plant leaf epidermis under confocal and superresolution microscopy. Microscopy research and technique, 81(2), 129-140. https://doi.org/10.1002/jemt.22667