Janelle Burke pursued her PhD in Plant Biology in the area of systematics under the guidance of Dr. Melissa Luckow. She studied the Neotropical members of the Polygonaceae (buckwheat) family. Through her doctoral research, she addressed questions regarding broad scale evolutionary relationships and species boundaries. At the family level, she reconstructed evolutionary relationships of oft- neglected tropical plants (Burke et al., 2010. Am. J. Bot 97: 1377). This work has led to a reexamination of the vegetative and floral structures within the family.
At a lower taxonomic level, she studied the genus Antigonon, which contains the invasive species A. leptopus (corallita, Mexican creeper). Her work has produced a key to accurately identify the invasive species from the other congeners. In addition, she has used data collected from herbarium labels to infer the native range of corallita, and its rate of introduction and spread. Her research has led her to Venezuela, Mexico, and the Netherlands Antilles.
Hailing from Chicago, Janelle’s interest in tropical plants was sparked by a winter trip to Ecuador while an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University. After receiving her B.A. in behavioral biology, she worked for the City of Baltimore training volunteers how to identify and remove invasive species from the City parks. She continues to integrate outreach and invasion biology into her work while finishing her dissertation.