BiographyI was born in Detroit, Michigan and grew up across the street from a steel mill. Although that setting did not inspire much interest in natural history, one of my favorite activities was to explore a nearby vacant lot, which I fantasized to be an exotic forest. My natural history appreciation was enhanced by family trips to northern Michigan, where I wandered through the woods, explored ponds and streams, and observed small animals by randomly pouring water down holes in the ground to see what would come out. As a young boy, I certainly was more interested in fish and frogs than plants, and was particularly intrigued by the pond life near our family cottage.
As an undergraduate, I actually begged my advisor to let me skip the required introductory botany course, which was rumored to be the most boring and dreadful class offered at the university. Fortunately, my advisor prevailed and that botany course changed the course of my life – I became fascinated with plants. I ended up majoring in biology, with an emphasis on aquatic plant nutrient uptake physiology. I went on to earn an M.S. degree, which focused on the taxonomy of Ceratophyllum, a group that frustrated me while attempting to identify the aquatic plant species in my physiological experiments. During that time, I also conducted limnological research in Michigan for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and worked in Florida as a research botanist investigating biological controls for aquatic plants. After earning my master’s, I worked as a wetland ecologist for the Nature Conservancy, where I helped develop the natural features inventory for Michigan.
My joint interests in aquatic plants, systematics, and physiology led me to pursue a Ph.D., which explored systematic relationships in Ceratophyllum using early molecular approaches. I went on to refine my molecular and genetic research during my first position as an assistant professor. My research activities have expanded widely during my career at the University of Connecticut where I have incorporated increasingly sophisticated approaches to the study of aquatic plant evolution ranging from manual DNA sequencing in the early 1990’s to more recent genomic approaches. I was a Fulbright senior scholar during 1999-2000 and the recipient of the University of Connecticut’s first award for excellence in research in 2009. I’ve now authored more than 170 scientific articles, which focus mainly on the systematics and ecology of aquatic flowering plants and have reviewed articles for 74 different scientific journals while serving on six editorial boards.
Despite my molecular focus, I have always maintained a genuine interest in natural history and field botany. In one 4-year period I traveled 45,000 miles by automobile to obtain specimens for an ongoing research project, visiting 48 different U.S. states. My current position also involves the directorship of the CONN Herbarium, where my interest in botanical databases developed. My work on this book began in earnest in 2004.
Areas of Research / Professional Expertise
plant systematics and evolution
plant genetics and molecular biology
aquatic flowering plant biology and ecology
invasive plant species
rare plant species and conservation
piano and other keyboards (former professional musician)
plants and nature
fishing and everything aquatic