MSU Plant Biology Department

Doug Schemske

Professor of Plant Biology
Ph.D. (University of Illinois)


Department of Plant Biology
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1312 USA
Phone: (517) 432-5289
Fax: (517) 353-1926

 To see a more or less updated CV, and save yourself the frustration of reading any longer, see: CV

Plant Biology Department
College of Natural Science

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Dr. Schemske received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1977. The following year he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama. Before joining the University of Washington Botany Department in 1989, Dr. Schemske was an Associate Professor at the University of Chicago.


Research Interests


'The challenge of studying adaptive variation in nature is that one has to know so much about the biology of the organism. Thus, it would seem that the second phase of the Dobzhanskian project, to show that genetic differentiation has occurred by natural selection, seems to evade us.' Lewontin (1997, p. 353)


The influential studies of Drosophila carried out by Dobzhansky and his colleagues illustrated the existence of adaptive genetic variation both within and between populations (Dobzhansky and Epling 1944; Dobzhansky and Levene 1948). Similarly, experiments conducted by researchers at the Carnegie Institution demonstrated that plant populations display marked local adaptation (Clausen, Keck, and Hiesey, 1940; Hiesey, Nobs, and Björkman 1971). Subsequent studies in both plants and animals provided abundant proof that the morphological and physiological differences observed between species and populations are often ecological adaptations (Antonovics and Bradshaw 1970; Schemske 1984; Endler 1986; Schluter and McPhail 1992).

The goal of my research is to characterize the mechanisms of adaptation. This requires information on both the ecological significance of putative adaptive traits as well as an understanding of their genetic basis. Such comprehensive studies are extremely difficult to accomplish; thus it is perhaps not surprising that our current knowledge of adaptation is inadequate. In a recent review of the literature, Orr and Coyne (1992) found only eight studies that had identified both the adaptive value and the genetic basis of differences between species in nature.

A central theme of my work is the link between temporal and spatial variation in ecological conditions and the adaptive differentiation of populations and species. I rely on ecological and genetic approaches to investigate the origin and maintenance of biological diversity. Such complex problems often require interdisciplinary solutions. I have established a number of rewarding collaborations that have greatly expanded the scope of my research program. For example, my work with Dr. H. D. Bradshaw, Jr. has introduced genetic mapping approaches to the field of population biology, demonstrating a powerful new approach to the study of natural populations. In the future, we plan to establish interdisciplinary training programs that will bring together researchers from a variety of fields. My long-term goal is to promote the study of adaptation at all levels, from the gene to the population. This research agenda takes its cue from the pioneering efforts of Clausen, Keck and Hiesey, whose collaborations in the mid-20th century provided a framework for the field of population biology. I have endeavored to follow their lead, bringing new technology to bear on the same, fundamental questions: How do organisms adapt to their environment?

The following links take you to brief discussions of my specific research interests and the abstracts from selected papers in each area.

I. What is the genetic architecture of adaptation?

  1. Pollinator-mediated selection and the evolution of reproductive isolation in monkeyflowers.

II. What is the role of random genetic drift in adaptation?

  1. Fine-Scale Genetic Differentiation in Linanthus: Isolation by Distance or Natural Selection?

III. How does spatial variation in the environment contribute to adaptation and speciation?

  1. Environmental variation along an elevation gradient, and the evolution of the niche in monkeyflowers.
  2. Local adaptation and the genetics of adaptation in Linanthus parviflorus.

IV. Why are tropical regions so diverse?

  1. The Demographic Consequences of Plant-Animal Interactions in a Neotropical herb: Spatio-Temporal Dynamics

    Horvitz, C. C. and D. W. Schemske. Leaf herbivory and neighbourhood competition in a neotropical herb: effects on demographic fates. J. Ecology 90:279-290.

  2. Plant-Animal Interactions and Adaptive Evolution in Neotropical Costus
  3. Deceit pollination and floral mimicry in tropical Begonia

Biotic Interactions and the Evolution of Tropical Diversity


"Since the animals and plants which exist in the world are products of the evolutionary development of living matter, any differences between tropical and temperate organisms must be the outcome of differences in evolutionary patterns." (Dobzhansky 1950)

How do we explain the extraordinary biological diversity of tropical regions? Few questions have generated such interest, yet we still struggle to find the answers. One of the greatest obstacles is that the question is multi-faceted, so a single mechanism is unlikely to provide both a necessary and sufficient explanation. Most of the hypotheses put forth to explain tropical diversity are purely ecological, and therefore do not identify the causal mechanisms responsible for diversity gradients. For example, energy is one of the best predictors of diversity, yet the energy hypothesis fails to identify how or why new species are produced in productive sites.

Here I review the major ideas concerning the origins of tropical diversity, with the goal of linking ecological and evolutionary perspectives. I first discuss the papers reprinted in this section, illustrating their individual contributions and their relationship to a general theory of tropical diversity. This is followed by a review of the evidence and explanations for latitudinal diversity gradients, a discussion of the mechanisms that may contribute to the origin and maintenance of diverse communities, and recommendations for future research directions.



Schemske, D. W. Ecological and evolutionary perspectives on the origins of tropical diversity, In R. Chazdon and T. Whitmore (eds.), Foundations of Tropical Biology: Key papers and commentaries. Univ. of Chicago Press. PDF

Schemske, D. W., H. V. Cornell, G. G. Mittelbach, K. Roy and J. M. Sobel. 2009. Is there a latitudinal gradient in the importance of biotic interactions? Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 40: 245-269. PDF

Schemske, D. W. 2009. Biotic interactions and speciation in the tropics. pp. 219-239, In Speciation and patterns of diversity, R. K. Butlin, J. R. Bridle and D. Schluter (eds.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. PDF




V. Polyploidy as a mechanism of rapid adaptation and speciation in plants.

VI. The ecology and evolution of plant mating systems

VII. Research approaches in plant conservation

Current students, postdocs, lab personnel


PhD students: Carina Baskett, Emily Dittmar

Post Doc: Christopher G. Oakley

Key personnel: Rachel Atchison (Research Technician), Jonathan Spoelhof (Research Technician)


Past Students (23 Ph.D, 2 MS)


Phyllis Coley. Ecological and evolutionary responses of tropical trees to herbivory: A quantitative analysis of grazing damage, plant defenses and growth rates. Ph.D. 1981. Current position: Prof., Univ. of Utah.


Susan Kalisz. The effects of seed pools on the dynamics and evolution of Collinsia verna populations. Ph.D. 1985. Current position: Prof., Univ. of Pittsburgh.


Amy Salzman. Physiological variation in salt tolerance and natural selection in populations of Ambrosia psilostachya (Compositae). Ph.D. 1985.


Charles Fenster. Gene flow and genetic differentiation in Cassia fasciculata. Ph.D. 1987. Current position: Prof., Univ. of Maryland.


Dale Clayton. Testing the extent of host-parasite coevolution: Birds and ectoparasites. Coadvised with John Fitzpatrick. Ph.D. 1989. Current position: Prof., University of Utah.


Ann Evans. Evolution of phenotypic plasticity. Ph.D. 1989.


Mark Johnston. Sexual selection, selection on floral characters. Ph.D. 1990. Current position: Prof., Dalhousie Univ.


Doug Stotz. Social interactions in understory mixed species flocks in Amazonia, coadvised with John Fitzpatrick. Ph.D. 1990 Current position: ECCo Senior Conservation Ecologist, The Field Museum.


Samuel Flores. Mating system evolution and population structure in Ludwigia peploides. Ph.D. 1990. Current position: Instructor, Universidad del Turabo, Puerto Rico.


John Willis. Microevolution, evolutionary genetics. Ph.D. 1991. Coadvised with Deborah Charlesworth. Current position: Prof., Duke University.


Keith Karoly*. Plant mating systems. Ph D. 1991. Current position: Prof., Reed College.


Mary Ruckelshaus. Population structure and modes of evolution. Ph.D 1994. Current position: Managing Director of The Natural Capital Project (Seattle, WA) and Consulting Professor and Consulting Professor for Standford Woods Institute for the Environment (Stanford University).


Jane Wentworth. Conservation and demography of the endangered plant Castilleja levisecta. .MS. 1994. Current position: King County Invasives Control Coordinator, Seattle WA.


Denise Lello. Mating system evolution in Mimulus guttatus. Ph D. 1995. Current Position: Lecturer, Smith College.


Ingrid Parker*. Demography and spatial spread of invasive plants. Ph D. 1996. Current position: Prof., Jean H. Langenheim Chair in Plant Ecology and Evolution, University of California-Santa Cruz.


John Bishop. Demographic and genetic consequences of colonization by Lupinus lepidus. Ph.D. 1996. Current position: Prof., Washington State University-Vancouver.


Carol Goodwillie*. Ecology and evolution of mating systems in Linanthus. Ph.D. 1997. Current position: Assoc. Prof, East Carolina University.


Kimiora Ward*. Local adaptation to serpentine soils in Linanthus parviflorus. MS. 1999. Current position: Research associate, UC Davis.


Justin Ramsey*. Polyploidy, hybridization and speciation. Ph.D. 2003.


Kathleen Kay*. Plant speciation. Ph.D. 2004. Current position: Asst. Prof, UC-Santa Cruz.


Amy Angert*. Evolutionary physiology, range limits. Ph.D. 2005. Current position: Asst. Prof., University of British Columbia.


Jeff Evans. Plant demography, models of plant invasion/control. PhD 2009 (Entomology). co-advised with D. Landis. Current position: Postdoctoral fellow, Dartmouth.


Jay Sobel. Plant evolutionary biology. Ph.D 2010. Current position: Asst. Prof., Binghamton University (NY).


Grace Chen. Plant evolutionary ecology. Ph.D 2011. Current position: Postdoctoral Lecturer, State University of New York at Oneonta


Mike Grillo. Ph.D 2013. co-advised after departure of his major adviser (Tao Sang). Current position: NSF Plant Genome Postdoctoral fellow, University of Illinois.


* recipient of NSF Graduate Fellowship
 recipient of EPA STAR Fellowship

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Selected Recent Publications


Bradshaw, H. D., Jr., K. G. Otto, B. E. Frewen, J. K. McKay and D. W. Schemske. 1998. Quantitative trait loci affecting differences in floral morphology between two species of monkeyflower (Mimulus). Genetics 149:367-382. PDF


Ramsey, J. and D. W. Schemske. 1998. Pathways, mechanisms and rates of polyploid formation in flowering plants. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 29:477-501. PDF


Schemske, D. W. and H. D. Bradshaw, Jr. 1999. Pollinator preference and the evolution of floral traits in monkeyflowers (Mimulus). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 96:11910-11915. PDF


Husband, B. C. and D. W. Schemske. 2000. Ecological mechanisms of reproductive isolation and coexistence of diploid and tetraploid Chamerion angustifolium. Journal of Ecology 88:689-701. PDF


Schemske, D. W. 2000. Understanding the origin of species. Evolution 54:1069-1073. review of: Endless Forms: Species and Speciation. 2000. D. J. Howard and S. H. Berlocher (eds.), Oxford Univ. Press, New York , N. Y. PDF


Schemske, D. W. and P. Bierzychudek. 2001. Evolution of flower color in the desert annual Linanthus parryae: Wright revisited. Evolution 55:1269-1282. PDF


Turelli, M., D. W. Schemske and P. Bierzychudek. 2001. Stable two-allele polymorphisms maintained by fluctuating fitnesses and seed banks: Protecting the blues in Linanthus parryae. Evolution 55:1283-1298. PDF


Schemske, D. W. 2002. Ecological and evolutionary perspectives on the origins of tropical diversity, pp. 163-173, In R. Chazdon and T. Whitmore (eds.), Foundations of Tropical Forest Biology: Classic papers with commentaries. Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago , IL . PDF


Ramsey, J. and D. W. Schemske. 2002. Neopolyploidy in flowering plants. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 33:589-639. PDF


Ramsey, J. R., H. D. Bradshaw, Jr. and D. W. Schemske. 2003. Components of reproductive isolation between the monkeyflowers Mimulus lewisii and M. cardinalis (Phrymaceae). Evolution 57:1520-1534. PDF


Kay, K. M. and D. W. Schemske. 2003. Pollinator assemblages and visitation rates for 11 species of Neotropical Costus (Costaceae). Biotropica 35:198-207. PDF


Bradshaw, H. D., Jr. and D. W. Schemske. 2003. Allele substitution at a flower color locus produces a pollinator shift in two monkeyflower species (Mimulus). Nature 426:176-178. PDF


Angert, A. L. and D. W. Schemske. 2005. The evolution of species' distributions: reciprocal transplants across the elevation ranges of Mimulus cardinalis and M. lewisii. Evolution 59(8): 1671-1684. PDF


Kay, K. M. Reeves, P., R. Olmstead and D.W. Schemske. 2005. Rapid speciation and the evolution of hummingbird pollination in Neotropical Costus subgenus Costus (Costaceae): Evidence from nrDNA ITS and ETS sequences. American Journal of Botany 92:1899-1910. PDF

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Current Funding


National Science Foundation, Population Biology. The Genetic Basis of Adaptive Differentiation in Two Species of Mimulus. co-PI with H. D. Bradshaw. . 2000-2004.


Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Grants Program. Evaluating the Potential for Biological Control of Garlic Mustard in Michigan. D. Landis and D. Schemske. . 2003-2005.


Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Evaluating the Potential for Biological Control of Garlic Mustard in Michigan. D. Landis and D. Schemske. . 2003-2005.


National Science Foundation, Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR). Integrated Ecological and Genomic Analysis of Speciation in Mimulus. t Schemske. PI- J. Willis; co-PI with H. D. Bradshaw, Jr., F. S. Dietrich, L. Fishman, J. Tomkins, and T. J. Vision. 2003-2008.


USDA. Using demographic models to assess biocontrol of an invasive plant $325,000. co-PI with Adam Davis, Jeff Evans and Doug Landis. 2004-2006.

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Botany/Zoology 849. Evolutionary Biology.

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© 2007 Plant Biology Department, Michigan State University Board of Trustees.