Research description:

My main research interests centers around the intersection of plant and microbial community ecology. How can traditional ecological theories of community assembly and species interactions be used to gain insight into microbiome formation, evolution, and impact on diverse host species? I primarily study the fungal colonizers of aboveground leaf tissues in diverse plant hosts, ranging from tallgrass species of the N. American Midwest to herbaceous plants from the Asteraceae family. Known as fungal endophytes (‘inside plant’), these symbionts are increasingly recognized for their functional roles in altering host physiology and immune system defense. However, many questions surrounding their dispersal and host-impact
remain poorly understood. What are the consequences of colonization for host fitness and competition in natural systems? How can we use community phylogenetics to better understand the interactions and evolution of microbiomes across multi-host plant communities? I am also broadly interested in the evolution and maintenance of symbioses and parasitism in host-microbial interactions.

My Pubs:

Whitaker et al. (2015).
New Phytologist. “Viral pathogen production in a wild grass host driven by host growth and soil nitrogen”. 207(3), p760-768. doi: 10.1111/nph.13369.

Christian*, Whitaker*, & Clay (*Co-1st Authors) (2015). Frontiers in Microbiology. “Microbiomes: unifying animal and plant systems through the lens of community ecology theory”. 6(869). doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.00869.

Select Presentations:

  1. Whitaker et al. (2015). Ecological Society for America (ESA) Annual Conference. Baltimore. “Environment, and not Ecotype, is the primary driver of microbiome community assembly in Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)”. Poster.

  2. Whitaker et al. (2013). Ecological Society for America (ESA) Annual Conference. Minneapolis. “Viral pathogen production and virus-plant interactions are controlled by nitrogen and phosphorus supply”. Poster.

Select Awards:

  1. NSF-Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) – 3 yr Fellowship (2015- )

  2. NIH Genetics, Cellular, & Molecular Sciences Training Grant (GCMS) – 1 yr Fellowship (2014)

  3. NSF-Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), Dr. Charles Mitchell, UNC-CH (2010)


Briana Whitaker

Keith Clay  |  Phone: (812) 855-8158  |  Fax: (812) 855-6705  |

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Link to my CV here.