2014 George R. Cooley Award Winner: Ryan Folk

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Boise, Idaho, July 29, 2014 – The American Society of Plant Taxonomists awarded Ryan Folk, an expert on the saxifrage family, their George R. Cooley Award for Best Contributed Paper in Plant Systematics at the society’s annual meeting for his talk, “‘Sky islands’ in the eastern US? – Strong phylogeographic structure in the Heuchera parviflora group (Saxifragaceae).” Using sophisticated analyses of DNA sequences in combination with anatomical study, Folk set out to determine whether different populations of the rare eastern US plant Heuchera parviflora (cave alumroot) might in fact represent previously unrecognized species. Cave alumroot grows only among rocks, often in deeply shaded environments, and although the species can be found in many eastern US states, its populations are scattered across the landscape in an island-like fashion. Folk’s work nicely demonstrates that plant species that grow only on isolated rock formations in the eastern US share similar evolutionary histories to plant species in the western US that grow only on isolated mountain peaks, which are often called “sky islands”. Folk discovered that H. parviflora consists of four groups of populations, each of which is geographically and genetically separated from the others.  Although it is possible to distinguish the four groups of populations by anatomical differences, Folk presented evidence that the populations were not distinct enough to be treated as different species, although they should be recognized as distinct varieties (which is botanical taxonomic rank below that of species). 

Folk is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at The Ohio State University. His Ph.D. advisor and co-author on the paper is Dr. John Freudenstein, a professor in the same department.

The award is named for George R. Cooley, a successful banker who studied plants and worked in conservation in retirement.  It is awarded to graduate students or early career researchers whose work is judged to be noteworthy as complete, synthetic, and original.

About the American Society of Plant Taxonomists:

The American Society of Plant Taxonomists promotes the research and teaching of the taxonomy, systematics, and phylogeny of vascular and nonvascular plants. Organized in

1935, the Society has a membership of over 1200. The Society publishes the scientific journals Systematic Botany and Systematic Botany Monographs, supports a variety of honorary and charitable activities, and conducts scientific meetings each summer. Information on the Society’s 2014 joint meeting with four other botanical societies (Botany 2014) can be found at http://www.botanyconference.org/.


Michael Moore, Chair of the Public Relations Committee

American Society of Plant Taxonomists

(440) 775-6876



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