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Nicholas Dowie|Meet the Science Posse

PhD. Candidate in Botany

Graduate Fellow

Topics Nicholas Can Bring to Your Classroom:

Plants and Society
Evolution and Coevolution
Symbioses and Game Theory
Phylogenetics and Biogeography
Techniques in Molecular Biology
Mushroom Cultivation and Cloning
Sterile Technique and Culturing
Commercial Salmon Fishing and Management


B.S. in Plant Biology, Montana State University
M.S. in Botany, University of Wyoming

Current Research:

Multiple symbiotic associations are commonplace for all organisms. Symbioses can be direct or indirect, persistent or punctuated, and range from mutualistic to parasitic. Studying the dynamics and influence of symbioses is of critical importance in understanding diversity, conservation and the evolutionary ecology of species. Rapid increases in molecular methodology coupled with significant decreases in cost, have resulted in a heightened opportunity to study these symbiotic associations.

My current research focuses on a three-member symbiosis between a conifer, a fungus and a nonphotosynthetic plant called pinedrops (Pterospora andromedea). Since pinedrops does not photosynthesize it cannot produce sugar/photosynthate for its energy requirements and instead relies on establishing an obligate relationship with a fungus. In this particular relationship, the fungus, in turn, forms a mutualistic relationship with a conifer for its own energy requirements.

The objective of my research is to examine the individual phylogenetics (relationship among species) for both pinedrops and their fungal hosts, highly specific symbioses between these phylogenies and conifer species, and the biogeography for the entire system as well as specific associations. This work is essential as it will provide information on how plants and fungi may become reproductively isolated as a result of their specific symbioses and will identify obscure barriers that may affect the conservation of seemingly healthy populations.


I was born and raised in Kodiak, Alaska. During my upbringing on this rural island, I had many opportunities to interact and experience the natural environment, including extensive and ongoing experience in operating a commercial salmon fishery. Through my various experiences in the last frontier, I have spent a great deal of time in various ecosystems such as subarctic/tundra, non-tropical rainforest, mountains, freshwater systems and the marine environment.  During this exposure, I have always been interested in the natural sciences but became focused on plant biology, which transitioned into a stronger focus for fungal biology and, subsequently, symbioses.

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Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge. –Carl Sagan

My primary home is and always will be Alaska. Nevertheless, Wyoming has become like a second home for me in many ways, as I married a local girl and started a family during my MS research at UW. Despite the obvious and immense differences for much of the environment and ecology between these states, there are very strong cultural commonalities such as values and an overall sense of independence. I am very aware of the benefits, as well as the challenges, associated with living in a rural area and I appreciate the significant role outreach plays in education and overall awareness. Because I understand this importance, I am even more excited and proud to be part of the Science Posse and their mission for STEM outreach.

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