Jacob Suissa, Ph.D. he/him (Principal Investigator)

I am an evolutionary biologist focused on how plants are constructed, how they function, and how they have evolved across deep time. To answer these questions I study ferns, one of the oldest and most diverse plant lineages. My work integrates topics ranging from morphology, anatomy, and physiology to character evolution, biogeography, and diversification.

I believe that art and science are one and the same. Plants, with their diversity of shapes, colors, and structures, provide a perfect medium for displaying this integration. In addition to my work as a scholar, I am an avid nature photographer and science communicator, using plants to inspire people to enjoy and appreciate the biotic world. 

Email:       CV   

Dusty Prater he/him (PhD student)

Born and raised in Notchy Creek, Tennessee, my love for the natural world and all life forms was instilled in me from a young age. That love has led me to study biology at Roane State Community College and then Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville as an undergraduate, finishing in Spring 2023. During that time, I became fascinated by plants—specifically ferns—and their dispersal mechanisms. This fascination has led me to pursue a masters degree in the BotanEE lab studying the evolution and ecophysiology of the Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) across it's latitudinal range in North America. When I am not studying ferns, you can find me tutoring students, hanging out with friends, reading a good novel, or volunteering with local nonprofits. 

Email:  Website link

Justyn Koenig he/him (Research Associate and Laboratory Manager)

I have been hooked on plants since I was a child. My love and curiosity of the botanical world led me to getting my B.S. in Plant Sciences and Biological Sciences from the University of Rhode Island. My interest in pteridophyte ecology and evolution was sparked during that time and ultimately led to me joining the BotanEE lab. When I am not in the lab you can find me outside looking for ferns and lycophytes, hunting for fossils, or reading about the prairie. 


Aiyana Renee Hamlin (Renee) she/her (Undergraduate research intern Ecology & Evolutionary Biology / Russian Studies) 

I’ve always been a curious person and the natural world provides an endless amount of things to question. Growing up in Columbia, Tennessee with a grandmother who loves to garden, I’ve always had an interest in plants. That interest grew as I did and ultimately influenced my decision to study Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I am endlessly fascinated by plants (and fungi!). When I am not studying, you can find me crocheting, reading, or planning meetings for the Bee Enthusiasts Club. 

Blake Califf he/him (Undergraduate research intern Ecology & Evolutionary Biology) 

Since a young age, I have been fascinated by the natural world. I enjoy studying biology because it proves there is always an answer to questions regarding our planet. I plan to take what I learn as a member of the BotanEE lab and apply it when I eventually pursue a postgraduate degree. When I am not in the lab or out doing fieldwork, I am on the soccer pitch, exploring the city of Knoxville, or cheering on my fellow Vols at sporting events.

Faith Kestner she/her (Undergraduate research intern Ecology & Evolutionary Biology) 

Nature has always been a big part of my life growing up in Southern Appalachia. I have always loved to hike, kayak, camp, garden, and forage. I spend almost every moment I can outdoors. Nature is an endless source of curiosity for me. I have always been partial to plants and fungi. I am particularly interested in the application of mathematics in ecology and conservation. In the future I am hoping to pursue a PhD in EEB here at the university of Tennessee. 

Wallace (Botanical guardian)

When Wallace isn't busy eating or playing, he enjoys botanizing in local natural areas. With his dense coat to catch all the hitchhiking fruits and seeds, he is a great companion to the botanical world. Wallace is particularly fond of wood anatomy and is great at identifying hardwoods and softwoods. 

Perhaps You?

Are you interested in understanding how seed-free plants grow, how they have evolved, how they diversified, how they function in different ecosystems? Come join the lab!

If you are interested in joining the lab as a research technician, postdoctoral fellow, graduate student, or artist in residence please reach out. If you would like to learn more how graduate school works, check out this site!