Hopkins Lab in the Fall of 2015, left to right, Ben A., Ben B., Callin, Shiso (dog), Robin, Heather, Sevan, Shayla, and Federico

Principal Investigator


Robin Hopkins
Assistant Professor


Robin Hopkins has always loved plants and grew up gardening with her mother in Vermont. She attended Brown University where she received bachelor degrees in Biology and Gender Studies. There she had her first research experience under the mentorship of Professor Johanna Schmitt. Dr. Hopkins went on to receive her PhD with Dr. Mark Rausher at Duke University. She received an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology to work with Dr. Mark Kirkpatrick at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2014, Dr. Hopkins started her lab at The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University as an Assistant Professor in the
Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

Honors and Awards

Dr. Hopkins has received a number of honors and awards, including the American Society of Naturalist Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Prize, the New Phytologist Tansley Medal, and the Harold Sanford Perry Prize for exceptional dissertation in plant biology.

Research Interests

Dr. Hopkins became interested in plant adaptation as an undergraduate while  working on the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana. As a PhD student she became interested in flower color and its role in plant speciation. She was intrigued by the flower color variation in Phlox drummondii and was motivated to figure out how and why it was involved in reproductive isolation. Her research is now expanding beyond floral traits to explore a multitude of reproductive isolating mechanisms as well as other traits showing adaptive variation in Phlox.


Freshman Seminar 21j  
Plant Sex: Insights into the birds and the bees…and the buttercups and the bleeding hearts
Catalog Number: 43651       Enrollment:  Limited to 10
Robin Hopkins (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology)
Half course (spring term)  

Ever wonder why your allergies are so bad in the spring? Or why your family garden is so diverse and colorful? Or why the cost of almonds is increasing as bee colonies decline?  Understanding the ecology and evolution of plant reproduction can answer these questions and many more about the diversity of form and function in the natural world around us.  This seminar addresses fundamental evolutionary concepts while exploring the dynamic relationship between plants and their pollinators.  We will use plant-pollinator interactions to understand the science of mutualism, co-evolution, speciation, convergence, animal behavior, and conservation biology.  Discussions and readings on these topics will be highlighted by trips to the Arnold Arboretum, the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and local beehives.  We will utilize living plants to explore diversity in plant morphology and reproductive strategies.  In-class activities will include mimicking bee buzz-pollination and observing pollen tube growth.

OEB 50.
Genetics and Genomics
Catalog Number: 72331
Robin Hopkins and Daniel L. Hartl (Public Health)
Primarily for Undergraduates
Half course (fall term) | Tu., Th., 11:30-1 pm | Exam Group: 15

Fundamental concepts in genetics and genomics forming a critical foundation for biology approached from two perspectives: (1) as a body of knowledge pertaining to genetic transmission, function, mutation, and evolution in eukaryotes and prokaryotes; and (2) as an experimental approach providing a toolkit for the study of biological processes such as development and behavior. Topics include structure, function, transmission, linkage, mutation, and manipulation of genes; genetic approaches in experimental studies of biological processes; and analysis of genomes in individuals and populations. Related ethical issues also discussed include genetically modified organisms, gene therapy, genetic testing, personalized medicine, and genetic privacy.


Matt Farnitano
Research Technician


As a research technician in the Hopkins Lab, I am involved with a number of projects studying speciation and differentiation, including hybridization, flower color changes, and pollen-pistil incompatibilities. More generally, I am interested in how genetic and environmental factors interact over time to produce the phenotypic variation we see in our world. I am also an avid bird watcher, and in my spare time I compose and play music. Before coming to the Arboretum, I worked as an aviculturist and bird keeper at the world’s largest collection of waterfowl, in eastern North Carolina.

Postdoctoral Researchers

Federico Roda Fornaguera

Research Interests

I study the genetic foundations of environmental adaptation in plants. I am especially interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie complex eco-evolutionary processes, such as the role of biotic interactions in creating plant diversity. This functional perspective has become increasingly feasible with technological advances that allow the analysis of variation in genetic networks across individuals, populations, and species.

My research integrates high-throughput genotyping techniques with manipulative experimental approaches to test the role of adaptation in genomic divergence and determine the repeatability of evolution at different levels of biological organization. My interest in molecular evolution started during my undergrad career when I investigated gene-expression patterns associated to stress resistance in a widely cultivated grass. Later, while earning my PhD, I studied the role of natural selection in the divergence of Senecio lautus, a plant that has repeatedly adapted to adjacent environments along the coast of Australia. My research showed that the evolution of similar adaptations in these plants involved different genes but generated predictable patterns of genomic divergence.

I am currently studying the evolution of reproductive isolation in Texas Wildflowers of the Phlox genus. My research aims to determine if mechanisms to prevent self-pollination in these plants are also involved in the rejection of pollen from different Phlox species.


Roda F, Ambrose L, Walter GM, et al. (2013) Genomic evidence for the parallel evolution of coastal forms in the Senecio lautus complex. Molecular Ecology 22, 2941-2952.

Roda F, Liu H, Wilkinson MJ, et al. (2013) Convergence and divergence during the adaptation to similar environments by an Australian groundsel. Evolution 67, 2515-2529.


Heather Briggs

Post-doctoral Researcher


Research Interests

I am interested in understanding how floral signals influence pollinator foraging behavior. Currently I am conducting experiments to understand the implications of this behavior for pollen movement within and between plant species and ultimately how this affects the strength of selection on plant traits involved in reproductive isolation between plant species.
My dissertation research explored how interspecific interactions between pollinators altered their patterns of plant visitation, and showed how such behavioral plasticity impacted plant reproductive success. My work demonstrated that the functional contributions of pollinator species in a community can be dynamic, and that these dynamic species roles influence ecosystem functions and services.


Briggs, H.M, L. Anderson, L. Atalla, A. Delva, E. Dobbs and B.J. Brosi. 2015. Heterospecific pollen deposition in Delphinium barbeyi: linking stigmatic pollen loads to reproductive output in the field. Annals of Botany. doi:10.1093/aob/mcv175

Gilbert, G. S., H.M. Briggs, and R. Magarey. 2015. The Impact of Plant Enemies Shows a Phylogenetic Signal. PLoS ONE 10:e0123758.

Brosi, B. J., and H. M. Briggs. 2013. Single pollinator species losses reduce floral fidelity and plant reproductive function. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110:13044–13048

Briggs, H. M., I. Perfecto, and B. J. Brosi. 2013. The Role of the Agricultural Matrix: Coffee Management and Euglossine Bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Euglossini) Communities in Southern Mexico. Environmental Entomology 42:1210–1217.

L. Reid, H. Briggs, S. Crandall, J. Eldon, C. Magdahl, J. Ohayon, E. Olimpi, D. Schweizer, G. Tadesse, and Y. Wang (CenTREAD Working Group). 2012. Tropical Ecology by John Kricher. Quarterly Review of Biology 87:380.

Graduate Students


Ben Goulet


Email: bgoulet@g.harvard.edu

Research Interests

I am interested in the genetic processes that drive the formation of new species.  As an undergraduate at the University of Rochester, I studied the genetic basis of reproductive isolation in the Drosophila simulans clade.  I am currently studying the interplay between hybridization and species formation in three species of Phlox.

Shayla Salzman

Research Interests

I am interested in the evolution and molecular mechanisms that underlie plant-insect interactions. Specifically, I am interested in the molecular basis of cross-species interactions and how has the evolution of these interactions shaped the diversity that we see today.  I am currently studying Zamia cycads and their weevil pollinators and lepidopteran herbivores with Robin Hopkins and Naomi Pierce at Harvard University. This system is particularly interesting due to its apparent species-specific interactions, highly toxic plant tissue, and threatened conservation statuses.


Y. Franchesco Molina-Henao


Email: molinahenao@fas.harvard.edu
Webpage: http://scholar.harvard.edu/molinahenao

Research Interests

Understanding the conditions that promote diversification in natural populations has long been a fundamental objective in evolutionary biology. Particularly, I am interested in studying the genetic basis of traits affecting fitness in nature and their potential contribution to speciation. Addressing these aims involves elucidating central questions in evolutionary biology such as: What is the molecular basis of adaptive variation? How do new species arise? What molecular, cellular and developmental mechanisms cause adaptation to different environments?  


Molina-Henao, YF., AL. Guerrero-Chacón, and M. Jaramillo. 2016. Ecological and Geographic Dimensions of Diversification in Piper subgenus Ottonia: A Lineage of Neotropical Rainforest Shrubs. Systematic Botany. 41(2):253-262.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1600/036364416X691777

Austin Garner


Email: aggarner@fas.harvard.edu

Research Interests




Ben Ainsworth


Email: be4ainsworth@gmail.com


Emily Guo


Email: ejguo619@bu.edu


I study Environmental Science with a minor in Chemistry at Boston University. I am currently helping with research of the evolution of the Phlox genus.


Joe Kearney


Email: jkearney01@college.harvard.edu


Going into my sophomore year at Harvard College, I plan on studying Economics and Classics. Outside of the classroom, I enjoy playing lacrosse and am a diehard fan of the New England Patriots.  So far I have been helping with plant crosses, bagging and counting seeds, and taking measurements of certain aspects of the Phlox Drummondii.

Other Researchers

2016-Garcia-Gabriela-Oak Ridge National Laboratory- PhD- Biology

Gabriela Garcia
Temporary Lab Assistant


Gabriela can be contacted at garcia.gabrielamarie@gmail.com

Research Interests

Gabriela is a 2016 GEM Fellow and will be starting the Ph. D program in Global Change Biology at Tufts in the fall. She is interested in tropical plant physiology and conservation biology.

Former Lab Members


Jessica Gard
Faculty Assistant



As the faculty assistant for Robin Hopkins, I handle the day-to-day clerical minutiae for the Hopkins lab. Although my background is in the humanities and social sciences, I am invigorated by the challenge of communicating information from the hard sciences to the larger public. On a broader level, this work environment presents an opportunity to explore my longstanding preoccupation with the intersection between human perceptions of nature and human relationships to the environment.

Sevan Suni

Post-doctoral Researcher

Research Interests

My research interests include how environmental change and ecology influence the evolutionary trajectories and conservation status of populations, and the microevolutionary processes that underlie adaptation and speciation.  As a postdoctoral fellow in the Hopkins lab I am investigating both the ecological factors and underlying genetic mechanisms that contribute to adaptation and speciation in Phlox populations.


Callin Switzer

Graduate Student


Email: cswitzer@fas.harvard.edu
Webpage: http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~cswitzer

Research Interests

I study interactions between plants and pollinators — mainly bumblebees. One special type of pollination, termed buzz pollination, involves bees vibrating the anthers of flowers at high frequencies to release pollen. I quantify bumblebees’ vibrations to gain insight into the relationships between plants and their pollinators.  

In addition to analyzing my own data, I help people analyze experimental and observational data.  I am happy to teach about statistical analysis and/or consult researchers on analysis techniques. 


Diana Bernal-Franco, PhD
Visiting Researcher

Research Interests

Evolution occurs through the accumulation of genetic changes, some of which are driven by natural selection. Different characteristics of a genetic change affect its likelihood to respond to natural selection, however, many questions remain. For instance, does response to natural selection more often involve many genes of small phenotypic effect, or a few genes of large effect? Are new mutations more likely to underlie evolution than standing genetic variation? Do inter-genic interactions, such as pleiotropy, linkage disequilibrium or epistasis, increase the likelihood of a gene responding to natural selection? Or do mutations of certain molecular function, for instance, regulatory or protein-coding mutations, underpin evolutionary change more often? I am interested in exploring the prevalence of the above aspects of genetic changes in evolutionary change. In particular, I have researched the number of genetic changes potentially underlying natural leaf shape variation of Senecio lautus (a herbaceous asteraceae endemic to Australia), the prevalence of new mutations vs. standing genetic variation among these genetic changes, and their likelihood to respond to natural selection in controlled transplant experiments. In the future, I am interested in exploring the genetic changes underlying evolution of another complex trait of plants: secondary metabolites, and characterizing their potential for humans use.


Roda F, Liu H, Wilkinson MJ, Walter GM, James ME, Bernal DM, Melo MC, Lowe A, Rieseberg LH, Prentis P, Ortiz-Barrientos D. 2013. Convergence and Divergence During the Adaptation To Similar Environments By an Australian Groundsel. Evolution: 2515-2529.

Soto-Suárez M, Bernal D, González C, Szurek B, Guyot R, Tohme J, Verdier V. 2010. In planta gene expression analysis of Xanthomonas oryzae pathovar oryzae, African strain MAI1. BMC microbiology 10: 170.

Gorrón E, Rodríguez F, Bernal D, Rodriguez-R LM, Bernal A, Restrepo S, Tohme J. 2010. A new method for designing degenerate primers and its use in the identification of sequences in Brachiaria showing similarity to apomixis — associated genes. Bioinformatics (Oxford, England) 26: 2053-2054.

Moreno CA, Castillo F, González A, Bernal D, Jaimes Y, Chaparro M, González C, Rodriguez F, Restrepo S, Cotes AM. 2009. Biological and molecular characterization of the response of tomato plants treated with Trichoderma koningiopsis. Physiological and Molecular Plant Pathology 74:111-120.

Reilly K, Bernal D, Cortés DF, Gómez-Vásquez R, Tohme J, Beeching JR. 2007. Towards identifying the full set of genes expressed during cassava postharvest physiological deterioration. Plant molecular biology 64: 187-203.


Chris Chen


Email: christopherchen@college.harvard.edu


Justin Dower


Email: justindower@college.harvard.edu

Research Biography

Justin Dower studied the pollination behavior of Battus philenor with Heather Briggs in the Hopkins Lab.