Felipe Zapata

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dunn Lab
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University


I am an evolutionary biologist broadly interested in trying to explain the extraordinary richness of biological diversity (i.e., genetic, taxonomic, and phenotypic diversity), particularly plant diversity. I approach this challenge by taking an integrative approach, where I combine molecular phylogenetics, morphometrics, and comparative analyses to discover and describe biodiversity, reconstruct the evolutionary history of species, and evaluate hypotheses on the role of different factors in the process of diversification.

Research Interests

evolutionary biology, plant systematics, phylogenetics, plant biology, computational biology.

Previous Positions & Education

2010—2012 Postdoctoral Research Associate Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley
2010 Ph.D. Ecology, Evolution & Systematics Department of Biology, University of Missouri, St. Louis
2000 B.S. Biology Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad de Los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia


Diversity & Diversification

Understanding how plant diversity originates and evolves is a central question in ecology and evolution. I am particularly interested in evaluating how geography and ecology interact to allow and cause organisms to evolve and diversify. I am studying the role of these factors in the diversification of plant groups from the highland (Escallonia) and lowland (Protium) forests of South America.

Relevant publications: AJB, BJLS, J. Biog.
Species Delimitation

Delimiting species confidently is not just a classificatory issue, it is the manifestation of the core problem in evolutionary biology that has puzzled naturalists for generations: how do species form? how do species multiply? Morphological discontinuities is by far the most commonly used criterion to diagnose species limits. However, there is relatively little work on quantitative methods to infer species boundaries using morphological data. I am working on statistical approaches to infer species boundaries using phenotypic and geographic information derived from natural history collections.

Relevant publications: Sys. Bio.

Advances in sequencing technologies are rapidly transforming comparative biology by enabling researchers access to genome-level data from any organism. However, using these data effectively still poses key challenges (e.g., ortholog detection, assembly confidence), which hinders the wider adoption and further improvement of methods that use this type of data. To address some of these challenges, I have been collaborating in the development of a modular workflow for de novo transcriptome assembly and phylogenomic analysis. This workflow not only automatizes multiple processes, but more importantly it facilitates full reproducibility of highly complex analyses. I am also collaborating in the development of tools that quantify uncertainty in sequence assembly.

Relevant publications: BMC Bioinf., Bioinformatics, arXiv
Functional Diversity

Organisms display an array of functional traits ranging from physiology to morphology that broadly match environmental conditions suggesting that such traits likely have fitness consequences. I am particularly interested in studying the genetic basis of such traits to gain insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying eco-phenotypic variation, adaptive evolution, and functional species differences. I have studied the genetic basis of plant secondary metabolites that mediate biotic and abiotic interactions in tropical rain forests trees of the genus Protium.

Relevant publications: MPE


See my Google scholar profile. If you do not have access to PDFs, please send me an email [felipe_zapata[AT]brown[DOT]edu].