Rebecca Povilus

Becky Povilus

Rebecca Povilus

Post-doctoral fellow, MIT

Visiting Fellow of the Arnold Arboretum


PhD Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
BS Plant Biology and Earth Science, University of Michigan

At the heart of my research interests lies the idea that molecular resources are important tools for connecting how changes at the gene and genome level affect developmental processes. This consequently produces variant morphologies for selection to act upon, essentially providing raw material for evolution.

I think that plants offer a particularly rich arena to study evolutionary-developmental biology (“evo-devo”). The evolution of plants has had a profound and traceable impact on the history of our planet and the life residing here. Plants are great from a developmental perspective because while they are sessile organisms, they are also perpetually embryonic. This means that throughout their lives plants can employ a wide range of developmental processes to respond to changes in their environment.

For my dissertation project, I want to apply evo-devo principles to the study of flowering plant (angiosperm) female reproductive biology. In particular, I am focusing on how evolutionary changes during the development of the egg-producing structure could give rise to the wide array of egg-sac morphologies  in angiosperms. Changes in egg-sac morphology are thought to affect how a maternal plant relates to her progeny, and may have contributed to the success and diversification of flowering plants.

I started working on my doctoral project with Ned Friedman at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I moved to Boston when Ned became director of the Arnold Arboretum and now I am working in the Weld Hill Research Facility on the Arboretum grounds. Besides research, I have also taught laboratory courses in plant anatomy and plant biodiversity/evolution. I have a long-standing interest in geology and paleontology, and I have participated in several botanical and geological collecting/survey field trips throughout North America.

Selected Publications

  • Povilus, RA, Losada, JM, and WE Friedman. 2015. Floral biology and ovule and seed ontogeny of Nymphaea thermarum, a water lily at the brink of extinction with potential as a model system for basal angiosperms. Ann Bot 115(2): 211-226. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcu235