Sean Graham

Faculty Profile

Faculty Profile

Photo by: Elaine Simons Lane
Professor, Head of Botany

Systematics and evolution of vascular plants, focusing on using DNA sequence data to infer relationships at deep and recent levels of seed plant, angiosperm and monocot phylogenetic history.


Research Director, UBC Botanical Garden & Centre for Plant Research (2006-)
Assistant Professor (1999-2003), University of Alberta
Postdoctoral Fellow (1996-1998), University of Washington
Ph.D. Botany (1997), University of Toronto
B.Sc. Genetics (1989), University of St. Andrews

Contact Information

Room 320, Biodiversity Research Centre
Room 363, Biodiversity Research Centre

Research Interests

Professor Sean Graham specializes in plant biodiversity with a focus on both evolutionary and molecular approaches.  He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto in 1997, and was a Research Associate at the University of Washington before joining the University of Alberta as an Assistant Professor in 1999.  In 2003, Dr. Graham was recruited to UBC as an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Land & Food Systems and was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2006.  In 2011, Dr. Graham moved to the Department of Botany in the Faculty of Science, and was promoted to Professor in 2012.  Prof. Graham has published more than 70 peer-reviewed papers in top journals including Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  His research is well funded by NSERC programs, including a Discovery grant and a recent Accelerator grant; he has been a co-PI on team CFI, RTI, and CREATE grants.  He has taught a range of classes in our Biology program at the 200- to 500-levels and SCIE 300 (Science Communications).  He has successfully mentored a dozen graduate students and he currently supervises six PhD and Masters students.  Prof. Graham has served as the Research Director for the Centre for Plant Research and the Associate Director of the Biodiversity Research Centre.  He is currently an Associate Editor for two journals – the American Journal of Botany and the Journal of Systematics and Evolution



My lab group works on a broad variety of problems in plant systematics and evolution. Research goals include inference of the major details of the land-plant portion of the 'Tree of Life,' application of reliable phylogenies to evolutionary questions, and characterization of the biodiversity of understudied plant lineages

Comparative genomics of green & mycoheterotrophic plants
Ongoing work includes studies of plastid genome dissolution in the mycoheterotrophic plants (plants that obtain some or all of their nutrition from fungal partners) and comparative transcriptome studies.

Plant deep phylogeny
A major focus is to infer the broad backbone of plant phylogeny using molecular approaches, including the earliest evolutionary splits in plant phylogeny. Recent and ongoing work includes investigations of higher-order relationships of the monocots, ANITA-grade angiosperms, seed plants, monilophytes (ferns) and bryophytes (mosses and relatives).

Evolutionary biodiversity
Studies of recent groups, including molecular-assisted taxonomy and phylogenetics of 'early-diverging' lineages. We also use phylogenies as a framework for studying various evolutionary questions (e.g., the origin of heterostyly).


Courses Taught/Teaching

SCIE 300: Communicating Science
BIOL 210: Biology of Vascular Plants
BIOL 525: Phylogenetics Workshop (next offered in June, 2015)
BIOL 448: Directed Studies
BOTA 501: Seminar Studies in Botany

Team Members

Sean Montgomery (BSc). Moss phylogenetics

Gregory Ross (MSc). Phylogenetics & plastid genome evolution of Alismatales
Hayley Darby (MSc). Phylogenetics & plastid genome evolution of eudicot mycoheterotrophs
Wesley Gerelle (MSc). Molecular evolution of heterotrophic plants

Vivienne Lam (PhD). Phylogenetics & plastid genome evolution of mycoheterotrophic plants
Erin Fenneman (PhD). Molecular diversity of the vascular-plant flora of southern British Columbia
David Bell (PhD). Molecular phylogenetics of bryophytes
Marybel Soto Gomez (PhD). Phylogenomics of yams and relatives
Qianshi Lin (PhD). Organellar genome evolution

Isabel Marques (Marie Curie postdoc). Hydatellaceae, a window into flowering plant origins

Selected Publications

Marques, I., S.A. Montgomery, M.S. Barker, T.D. Macfarlane, J.G. Conran, P. Catalán, L.H. Rieseberg, P.J. Rudall, S.W. Graham. 2016. Transcriptome‐derived evidence supports recent polyploidization and a major phylogeographic division in Trithuria submersa (Hydatellaceae, Nymphaeales). New Phytologist  doi: 10.1111/nph.13755

Ross, T.G., C.F. Barrett, M. Soto Gomez, V.K.Y. Lam, C.L. Henriquez, D.H. Les, J.I Davis, A. Cuenca, G. Petersen, O. Seberg, M. Thadeo, T.J. Givnish, J. Conran, D.W. Stevenson, S.W. Graham. 2016. Plastid phylogenomics and molecular evolution of Alismatales. Cladistics  doi:10.1111/cla.12133

Lam, V.K.Y., M. Soto Gomez, S.W. Graham. 2015. The highly reduced plastome of mycoheterotrophic Sciaphila (Triuridaceae) is colinear with its green relatives and is under strong purifying selection. Genome Biology and Evolution 8:2220-2236

Iles, W.J.D, S.S. Smith, M.A. Gandolfo and S.W. Graham. 2015. A review of monocot fossils suitable for molecular dating analyses. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 178:346-374

Percy, D.M., G.W. Argus, Q.C. Cronk, A.J. Fazekas, P.R. Kesanakurti, K.S. Burgess, B.C. Husband, S.G. Newmaster, S.C.H. Barrett and S.W. Graham 2014. Understanding the spectacular failure of DNA barcoding in willows (Salix): Does this result from a trans-specific selective sweep? Molecular Ecology 19:4737-4756

Chang, Y. and S.W. Graham. 2014. Patterns of clade support across the major lineages of moss phylogeny. Cladistics 30:590-606

Wickett, N.J., S. Mirarab, N. Nguyen, T. Warnow, E. Carpenter, N. Matasci, S. Ayyampalayam, M.S. Barker, J.G. Burleigh, M.A. Gitzendanner, B.R. Ruhfel, E. Wafula, J.P. Der, S.W. Graham, S. Mathews, M. Melkonian, D.E. Soltis, P.S. Soltis, N.W. Miles, C.J. Rothfels, L. Pokorny, A. Jonathan Shaw, L. DeGironimo, D.W. Stevenson, B. Surek, J.C. Villarreal, B. Roure, H. Philippeu, C.W. dePamphilis, T. Chen, M.K. Deyholos, R.S. Baucom, T.M. Kutchan, M.M. Augustin, J. Wang, Y. Zhang, Z. Tian, Z. Yan, X. Wu, X. Sun, G. Ka-Shu Wong, and J. Leebens-Mack. 2014. Phylotranscriptomic analysis of the origin and early diversification of land plants. PNAS 111:E4859–E4868.

Iles, W.J.D., C. Lee, D.D Sokoloff, M.V. Remizowa, S.R. Yadav, M.D Barrett, R.L. Barrett, T.D. Macfarlane, P.J. Rudall and S.W. Graham. 2014. Reconstructing the age and historical biogeography of the ancient flowering-plant family Hydatellaceae (Nymphaeales). BMC Evolutionary Biology 14:103

Li, F.-W., J.C. Villarreal, S. Kelly, C.J. Rothfels, M. Melkonian, E. Frangedakis, M. Ruhsam, E.M. Sigel, J.P. Der, J. Pittermann, D.O. Burge, L. Pokorny, A. Larsson, T. Chen, S. Weststrand, P. Thomas, E. Carpenter, Y. Zhang, Z. Tian, L. Chen, Z. Yan, Y. Zhu, X. Sun, J. Wang, D.W. Stevenson, B.J. Crandall-Stotler, A. J. Shaw, M.K. Deyholos, D.E. Soltis, S.W. Graham, M.D. Windham, J.A. Langdale, G. K.-S. Wong, S. Mathews, and K.M. Pryer. 2014. Horizontal transfer of an adaptive chimeric photoreceptor from bryophytes to ferns. PNAS, 111:6672-6677

Ness, R.W., S.W. Graham and S.C.H. Barrett. 2011. Reconciling gene and genome duplication events: Using multiple nuclear gene families to infer the phylogeny of the aquatic plant family Pontederiaceae. Molecular Biology and Evolution. 28:3009-3018.

Hollingsworth, P.M., L.L. Forrest, J.L. Spouge, M. Hajibabaei, S. Ratnasingham, M. van der Bank, M.W. Chase, R.S. Cowan, D.L. Erickson, A.J. Fazekas, S.W. Graham, et al. 2009. A DNA barcode for land plants. PNAS 106:12794-12797.

Graham S.W. and W.J.D. Iles. 2009. Different gymnosperm outgroups have (mostly) congruent signal regarding the root of flowering-plant phylogeny. American Journal of Botany 96: 207-215.

Rai, H.S., P. A. Reeves, R. Peakall, R.G. Olmstead and S.W. Graham. 2008. Inference of higher-order conifer relationships from a multi-locus plastid data set. Botany 86:658-669.

Cantino P.D., J.A. Doyle, S.W. Graham, W.S. Judd, R.G. Olmstead, D.E. Soltis, P.S. Soltis and M.J. Donoghue. 2007. Towards a phylogenetic nomenclature of Tracheophyta. Taxon 56:822-846.

Saarela J.M., H.S. Rai, J.A. Doyle, P.K. Endress, S. Mathews, A.D. Marchant, B.G. Briggs and S.W. Graham. 2007. Hydatellaceae identified as a new branch near the base of the angiosperm phylogenetic tree. Nature 446:312-315.

Graham S.W., J.M. Zgurski, M.A. McPherson, D.M. Cherniawsky, J.M. Saarela, E.F.C. Horne,S.Y. Smith, W.A. Wong, H.E. O’Brien, V.L. Biron, J.C. Pires, R.G. Olmstead, M.W. Chase and H.S. Rai. 2006. Robust inference of monocot deep phylogeny using an expanded multigene plastid data set. In J.T. Columbus, E.A. Friar, J.M. Porter, L.M. Prince and M.G. Simpson [eds.], Monocots: comparative biology and evolution (excluding Poales). Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont, California, USA, pages 3–21.