Kathleen M. Pryer

Professor of Biology

358 Bio Sci Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
Campus Box: 
Box 90338, Durham, NC 27708-0338
My research focuses on understanding the evolutionary relationships of ancient land plants, especially ferns and horsetails, by integrating evidence from morphology, molecules (DNA sequence data from multiple genes), and the fossil record. I use an explicit phylogenetic framework to examine the morphological evolution of various sporophytic and gametophytic characters within vascular plants, and to gain insight into the evolution of various life history traits and the body plans that typify vascular plants. A phylogenetic perspective also informs my molecular evolutionary studies that attempt to elucidate why we observe remarkable rate heterogeneity in chloroplast genes in land plant phylogeny.


  • Ph.D., Duke University 1995

  • M.S., University of Guelph (Canada) 1981

  • B.S., McGill University (Canada) 1976

Smith, A. R., K. M. Pryer, E. Schuettpelz, P. Korall, H. Schneider, and P. G. Wolf. “Fern classification.” In Biology and Evolution of Ferns and Lycophytes, 417–67, 2008. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511541827.017. Full Text

Schuettpelz, E., and K. M. Pryer. “Fern phylogeny.” In Biology and Evolution of Ferns and Lycophytes, 395–416, 2008. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511541827.016. Full Text

Meineke, Emily K., Carlo Tomasi, Song Yuan, and Kathleen M. Pryer. “Applying machine learning to investigate long-term insect-plant interactions preserved on digitized herbarium specimens.Applications in Plant Sciences 8, no. 6 (June 2020): e11369. https://doi.org/10.1002/aps3.11369. Full Text

Pryer, Kathleen M., Carlo Tomasi, Xiaohan Wang, Emily K. Meineke, and Michael D. Windham. “Using computer vision on herbarium specimen images to discriminate among closely related horsetails (Equisetum).Applications in Plant Sciences 8, no. 6 (June 2020): e11372. https://doi.org/10.1002/aps3.11372. Full Text

Kao, Tzu-Tong, Carl J. Rothfels, Alicia Melgoza-Castillo, Kathleen M. Pryer, and Michael D. Windham. “Infraspecific diversification of the star cloak fern (Notholaena standleyi) in the deserts of the United States and Mexico.American Journal of Botany 107, no. 4 (April 7, 2020): 658–75. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajb2.1461. Full Text

Windham, M. D., K. M. Pryer, D. B. Poindexter, F. W. Li, C. J. Rothfels, and J. B. Beck. “A step-by-step protocol for meiotic chromosome counts in flowering plants: A powerful and economical technique revisited.” Applications in Plant Sciences 8, no. 4 (April 1, 2020). https://doi.org/10.1002/aps3.11342. Full Text

George, Lisa O., Kathleen M. Pryer, Tzu-Tong Kao, Layne Huiet, and Michael D. Windham. “Baja: A New Monospecific Genus Segregated from Cheilanthes s. l. (Pteridaceae).” Systematic Botany 44, no. 3 (September 6, 2019): 471–82. https://doi.org/10.1600/036364419x15620113920536. Full Text

Kao, Tzu-Tong, Kathleen M. Pryer, Forrest D. Freund, Michael D. Windham, and Carl J. Rothfels. “Low-copy nuclear sequence data confirm complex patterns of farina evolution in notholaenid ferns (Pteridaceae).Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 138 (September 2019): 139–55. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2019.05.016. Full Text

Sigel, E. M., J. P. Der, M. D. Windham, and K. M. Pryer. “Expression level dominance and homeolog expression bias in recurrent origins of the allopolyploid fern polypodium hesperium.” American Fern Journal 109, no. 3 (July 1, 2019): 224–47. https://doi.org/10.1640/0002-8444-109.3.224. Full Text

Eily, A. N., K. M. Pryer, and F. W. Li. “A first glimpse at genes important to the Azolla–Nostoc symbiosis.” Symbiosis 78, no. 2 (June 15, 2019): 149–62. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13199-019-00599-2. Full Text Open Access Copy

Yang, Emily J., Chan Yul Yoo, Jiangxin Liu, He Wang, Jun Cao, Fay-Wei Li, Kathleen M. Pryer, et al. “NCP activates chloroplast transcription by controlling phytochrome-dependent dual nuclear and plastidial switches.Nat Commun 10, no. 1 (June 14, 2019): 2630. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-10517-1. Full Text

Li, Fay-Wei, Paul Brouwer, Lorenzo Carretero-Paulet, Shifeng Cheng, Jan de Vries, Pierre-Marc Delaux, Ariana Eily, et al. “Fern genomes elucidate land plant evolution and cyanobacterial symbioses.Nature Plants 4, no. 7 (July 2, 2018): 460–72. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-018-0188-8. Full Text


Windham, Michael D., Layne Huiet, Eric Schuettpelz, Amanda L. Grusz, Carl Rothfels, James Beck, George Yatskievych, and Kathleen M. Pryer. “Using Plastid and Nuclear DNA Sequences to Redraw Generic Boundaries and Demystif Species Complexes in Cheilanthoid Ferns.” In American Fern Journal, 99:128–32. AMER FERN SOC INC, 2009.

Pryer, K. M., H. Schneider, and S. Magallon. “The radiation of vascular plants.” In Assembling the Tree of Life, edited by J. Cracraft and M. J. Donoghue, 138–53. OXFORD UNIV PRESS, 2004.

Selected Grants

DISSERTATION RESEARCH: Evolution and Function of Farina in the Desiccation-tolerant Notholaenid Ferns (Pteridaceae) awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2017 to 2021

Identifying those Pesky Mustards: The Boechera Digitization Project awarded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2014 to 2017

Collaborative Research: Exploring the Evolution of an Extreme Makeover in Ferns awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2012 to 2016