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Nyree Zerega, Ph.D.

Director, Graduate Program in Plant Biology and Conservation
Director and Curator, Nancy Poole Rich Herbarium
Professor of Instruction, Program in Biological Sciences, Northwestern University
(847) 835-6916
Research Interests: 
  • Evolutionary processes in plants, especially as they apply to crops and their wild relatives
  • Origins, diversity, and conservation of underutilized crop plants, especially in the genus Artocarpus 
  • Plant systematics and biogeography
  • Pollination biology in the mulberry family (Moraceae)

Lab webpage

My research focuses on the systematics, evolution, biogeography, and reproductive ecology of plants, especially in the Moraceae (mulberry) family. The family displays an amazing array of diversity in inflorescence structures, pollination syndromes, breeding systems, floral characters, and growth forms. This diversity makes it an excellent group for addressing many intriguing evolutionary questions. Additionally, it includes several important food and fiber sources such as breadfruit, jackfruit, figs, and paper mulberry. My other main area of interest is the origins, diversity, domestication, and conservation of underutilized crops and their wild relatives, especially the genus Artocarpus (Moraceae).

Selected Publications: 

Williams, E.W., E.M. Gardner, R. Harris III, A. Chaveerach, J.T. Pereira, and N.J.C. Zerega. Out of Borneo: Biogeography, phylogeny, and divergence date estimates of Artocarpus (Moraceae). Accepted pending minor revisions. Annals of Botany.

Zerega, N.J.C. and D. Ragone. In press. Toward a global view of breadfruit genetic diversity. Proceedings from the International Breadfruit Conference. Tropical Agriculture.

Gardner, E.M., M.G. Johnson, D. Ragone, N.J. Wickett, & N.J.C. Zerega. 2016. Low-coverage, whole-genome sequencing of Artocarpus camansi(Moraceae) for phylogenetic marker development and gene discovery. Applications in Plant Sciences4(7), apps.1600017.

Johnson, M.G., E.M. Gardner, Y. Liu, R. Medina, B. Goffinet, A.J., N.J.C. Zerega, and N.J. Wickett. 2016. HybPiper: Extracting coding sequence and introns for phylogenetics from high-throughput sequencing reads using target enrichment.Applications in Plant Sciences4(7), apps.1600016.

Gardner, E.M., K.M. Laricchia, M. Murphy, D. Ragone, B.E. Scheffler, S. Simpson, E.W. Williams, and N.J.C. Zerega. 2015. Primer Note: Chloroplast microsatellite markers for Artocarpus (Moraceae) developed from transcriptome sequences. Applications in Plant Sciences 3(9):

Zerega, N.J.C., T. Wiesner-Hanks, D. Ragone, B. Irish, B. Scheffler, S. Simpson, and F. Zee. 2015. Diversity of the breadfruit complex (Artocarpus, Moraceae): Genetic characterization of critical germplasm. Tree Genetics and Genomes.  

Zerega, N.J.C., G. Ravikanth, E.M. Gardner, K. Laricchia, T. Melhem, M. Wang, C. E. Witherup, S. Setty, M.I. Zuberi, M.R. Jagdish, and D. Ragone. 2015. New genomic resources to understand genetic diversity and promote crop improvement of jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), breadfruit (A. altilis), and other under utilized Artocarpus crops. Procedings of the International Symposium on Jackfruit and Breadfruit of the Tropics.

Zerega, N.J.C. 2014. Origins and Development of Breadfruit, in C. Smith (ed.). Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. P. 234. Springer, New York, New York.

Witherup, C, D. Ragone, T. Wiesner-Hanks, B. Irish, B. Scheffler, S. Simpson, F. Zee, M. I. Zuberi, N.J.C. Zerega. 2013. "Development of microsatellite loci in Artocarpus altilis (Moraceae) and cross-amplification in congeneric species." Applications in Plant Science 1(7):

Misiewicz, T. and N.C. Zerega. 2012. "Phylogeny, Biogeography and Character Evolution of Dorstenia (Moraceae)." Edinburgh Journal of Botany 69(3): 413-440.

Zerega, N.J.C., M.N. Nur Supardi, and T.J. Motley. 2010. Phylogeny and recircumscription of Artocarpeae (Moraceae) with a focus on ArtocarpusSystematic Botany 35 (4): 766 - 783.

Khan, R., N.J.C. Zerega, S. Hossain, and M.I. Zuberi. 2010. Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam.) Diversity in Bangladesh: Land Use and Artificial SelectionEconomic Botany 64(2): 124-136.

Rønsted, N., G.D. Weiblen, W.L. Clement, N.J.C. Zerega, and V. Savolainen. 2008. Reconstructing the phylogeny of figs (Ficus, Moraceae) to reveal the history of the fig pollination mutualism. Symbiosis 45:45-56.

Zerega, N.J.C., D. Ragone, and T.J. Motley. 2006. Genetic diversity and origins of domesticated breadfruit. In Darwin’s Harvest: New Approaches to the Origins, Evolution, and Conservation of Crops, ed. T.J. Motley, N.J.C. Zerega, and H.B. Cross. Columbia University Press, New York.

Motley, T.J., N.J.C. Zerega, and H.B. Cross, ed. 2006. Darwin’s Harvest: New Approaches to the Origins, Evolution, and Conservation of Crops. New York: Columbia University Press.

Zerega, N.J.C., W.L. Clement, S.L. Datwyler, and G.D. Weiblen. 2005. Biogeography and divergence times in the mulberry family (Moraceae)Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37:402-416.

Zerega, N.J.C., D. Ragone, and T.J. Motley. 2005. Systematics and species limits of breadfruit (Artocarpus, Moraceae)Systematic Botany 30(3):603-615.

Zerega, N.J.C., L.A. Mound, and G.D. Weiblen. 2004. Pollination in the New Guinea endemic Antiaropsis decipiens (Moraceae) is mediated by a new species of thrips, Thrips antiaropsidis sp. nov. (Thysanoptera:Thripidae)International Journal of Plant Sciences 165(6):1,017-1,026.

Zerega, N.J.C., D. Ragone, and T.J. Motley. 2004. Complex origins of breadfruit: Implications for human migrations in OceaniaAmerican Journal of Botany 91(5):760-766.

Zerega, N.J.C. 2003. The Breadfruit TrailNatural History 112(10):46-51.

Zerega, N.J.C., S. Mori, C. Lindqvist, Q. Zheng, and T.J. Motley. 2002. Using amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLP) to identify black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)Economic Botany 56(2):154-164.

Bultman, T.L. and N.J. Conard. 1998. Effects of endophytic fungus, nutrient level, and plant damage on performance of Fall Armyworm (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Environmental Entomology 27(3):631-635.

Graduate Students: 
Elliot Gardner (Ph.D. program, expected graduation 2017)
Lauren Audi (MS program, expected graduation 2018)
Theresa Melhem (Master's degree 2015)
Kristen Laricchia (Master's degree 2014, currently Associate Computational Biologist at the Broad Institute)
Maria Wang (Master's degree 2014, currently Research Assistant, CTFS-ForestGEO Ecosystems and Climate Lab, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)
Paya Sarraf (Bachelor's degree 2014)
Tyr Wiesner-Hanks (Bachelor's degree 2013, currently Ph.D. student in Plant Breeding at Cornell University)
Colby Witherup (Master's degree 2013, currently Ph.D. student at Northwestern University )
Lindsay Darling (Master's degree 2013, currently Research Assistant for the Oak Recovery Program, Morton Arboretum)
Diane Huebner (Master's degree 2009, currently Ph.D. student in Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks)
Tracy Misiewicz (Master's degree 2009; Ph.D. 2014, University of California, Berkeley, currently Science Project Specialist, The Organic Center, Washington, DC)
Evelyn Williams (Postdoctoral Research Associate, 2012-2014)

Zerega Lab Group
The Zerega Lab aims to understand evolutionary processes in plants, especially as they apply to underutilized crops and their wild relatives. The research takes both a basic and applied approach with the goals of advancing crop improvement, sustainable agriculture, and food security, as well as informing the conservation of plant genetic resources. 

Graduate Program in Plant Biology and Conservation
This program is a collaboration between Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. The graduate program offers thesis and non-thesis master’s degree and Ph.D. programs and aims to foster an academic and research environment that allows students to gain experience, skills, and knowledge to become scholars, leaders, and practitioners in plant biology and conservation.