Mark C. Ungerer, Professor

Mark Ungerer

Director, Division of Biology

Contact information

426 Ackert Hall
(785) 532-6615


Ph.D. 2000, Indiana University. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Area(s) of Specialization

Evolutionary and ecological genetics in plants; genome structure and evolution.

Research Focus

We combine a variety of genetic and genomic approaches with analysis of relevant phenotypes to study ecologically and evolutionarily important variation both among and within species. Current research interests fall into three areas:

The evolution of ecologically important phenotypes:
Elucidating the molecular basis of adaptive phenotypic variation is a major aim of evolutionary biology. We're currently using several plant systems (sunflowers, wild grasses, Arabidopsis) to study the evolution of adaptive variation in freezing tolerance, drought tolerance and life history strategies.

Transposable elements and genome evolution:
The class I transposable elements known as long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons are ubiquitous in plants and represent a significant genomic fraction in plant species with large genomes. We have discovered recent, large-scale proliferation events of these sequences in multiple species of the sunflower genus Helianthus. Current research is geared toward understanding genomic and environmental forces that may have triggered these proliferation events and the potential consequences of these events on genome function and plant life history characteristics.

Population genetics:
The American plains bison was a prominent feature of the North American landscape until the late 1800s when populations were decimated by overhunting. A resident bison herd of approximately 300 animals has been established at the nearby Konza Prairie Biological Station as part of a long-term study on the effects of grazing and fire on prairie ecosystems. Current work is focused on monitoring the population genetic health of this bison herd and understanding patterns of male and female mating success through molecular parentage analysis combined with observational data.

Selected Publications

Qiu F, Bachle S, Nippert JB, Ungerer MC. 2020. Comparing control options for time-series RNA sequencing experiments in nonmodel organisms: an example from grasses. Molecular Ecology Resources 20(3): 681-691

Qiu F, Baack EJ, Whitney KD, Bock DG, Tetreault HM, Rieseberg LH, Ungerer MC. 2019. Phylogenetic trends and environmental correlates of nuclear genome size variation in Helianthus sunflowers. New Phytologist 221(3): 1609-1618.

Burke SV, Ungerer MC, Duvall MR. 2018. Investigation of mitochondrial-derived plastome sequences in the Paspalum lineage (Panicoideae; Poaceae). BMC Plant Biology 18(1): 152

Qiu F, Ungerer MC. 2018. Genomic abundance and transcriptional activity of diverse gypsy and copia long terminal repeat retrotransposons in three wild sunflower species. BMC Plant Biology 18(1): 1-8

Park B, Rutter MT, Fenster CB, Symonds VV, Ungerer MC, Townsend JP. 2017. Distribution of mutational effects and the estimation of directional selection on five phenotypic traits in divergent lineages of Arabidopsis thaliana . Genetics 206: 2105-2117

Tetreault HM, Ungerer MC. 2016. Long Terminal Repeat retrotransposon content in eight diploid sunflower species inferred from next-generation sequence data. G3 Genes Genomes Genetics 6: 2299-2308

Ungerer MC, Kawakami T. 2013. Transcriptional dynamics of LTR retrotransposons in early generation and ancient sunflower hybrids. Genome Biol. & Evol. 5: 329-337.

View the complete publication list in NCBI