Frank T. Farruggia

Biologist, Environmental Protection Agency


Department of Biology
257 South 1400 East
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT 84112

ftfarruggia at gmail dot com





My interests span a diversity of topics within plant biology.  I am especially interested in systematics, evolution, floristics and community ecology. Currently I am working on a taxonomic revision of Solanum section Crinitum. This group represents a distinct clade of species within the spiny solanums (subgenus Leptostemonum) and is thought to include approximately 14 species. This study utilizes DNA sequence data and morphological features to reconstruct the phylogenetic history of the section.


Sesbania Monographic Study

My dissertation was a phylogenetic and monographic study of the genus Sesbania (Leguminosae, "Legumes"). This research utilized DNA sequences along with morphology to reconstruct phylogenies using parsimony, maximum likelihood, and Bayesian methods. These phylogenies were used to investigate biogeographic patterns and morphological innovations related to dispersal. In comparison to the sister tribes Robinieae and Loteae. Sesbania's unique ecological preference to wetland and riparian ecosystems has led to specialized morphologies (innovations), which potentially facilitated long-distance dispersal events via hydrochory. My dissertation resolves the phylogenetic relationships among the many species of Sesbania and provides a comparative analysis of biogeographic patterns in an evolutionary context.



Floristics and Community Ecology

The diverse graminoid-dominated savannas of Central America remain poorly described. During my masters research I surveyed the flora and environment of  a hyperseasonal coastal savanna near Sapodilla Lagoon, Stann Creek District, Belize.  This research utilized non-metric multidimensional scaling and correlation to describe community-level variation and its environmental correlates.  Variation in species composition within the savanna correlated strongly with particular species topography, cation exchange capacity, and copper concentration. Qualitative comparisons with other savannas studied in Belize show distinct divergences in flora, structure, and dominance in spited of previously being classified as similar. 

Future research on these systems must include greater sampling of the interior-upland savannas and similar communities in Yucatan Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua.  I also hope to include phylogenetic history of these communities in the future.  The dissimilarity of the species compositions leads me to believe that these communities may have different biogeographic origins, which may be detectable though phylogenetic inference.

Parker Creek Canyon, Arizona
This project was simply a floristic study of a remote and diverse desert canyon in Arizona which was funded by the Arizona Nevada Academy of Science.  This study included training two undergraduate biology majors in plant community surveys, collection and identification. 

Other interests
I have also been a part of a diversity of other botanical studies while being a graduate student as Arizona State University.  My work with Sesbania phylogenetics lead to a collaboration with a group of researchers studying the pattern of rhizobial symbiont relationships across Sesbania. This research is being followed up with a more broad study of Sesbania-rhizobial relationships and the potential controlling mechanisms determining symbiotic potential.

As part of a group of researchers at ASU, I investigated the utility of low-copy nuclear genes in the reconstruction of legume phylogenies.  This study found that a simple survey technique employed over a broad range of taxa could reveal the potential for a nuclear gene to resolve phylogenetic histories over variable taxonomic levels. 

A university funded project, on which I worked as a mentor to an undergraduate, was the development of a brochure-based self-guided instructional tour of the ASU Arboretum. This brochure has quickly become a commonly used map on the ASU campus and is now in the development as a downloadable podcast discussion of each of the 130+ species we included.



Farruggia, F.T., N. Luke and N. Hertzfeld. 2009. Preliminary Botanical
Explorations of the Parker Creek Canyon, Sierra Ancha Mountains, Gila County,
Arizona. Journal of the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science 41(2): 59-74. PDF

Scott T. Bates, Frank Farruggia, Edward Gilbert, Raul Gutierrez, Darin Jenke,
Elizabeth Makings, Erin Manton, Douglas Newton, and Leslie R. Landrum.
Vascular Plants of Arizona: Solanaceae Part Two: Key to the genera and
Solanum. Canotia 5(1): 1-16. PDF

Cummings, S.P., P. Gyaneshwar, P. Vinuesa, F.T. Farruggia, M. Andrews, D.
Humphry, G.N. Elliott, A. Nelson, C. Orr, D. Pettitt, G.R. Shah, S.R. Santos, H.B.
Krishnan, D. Odee, F.M.S. Moreira, J.I. Sprent, J.P.W. Young and E.K. James.
2009. Nodulation of Sesbania species by Rhizobium (Agrobacterium) strain
IRBG74 and other rhizobia. Environmental Microbiology 11(10): 2510-2525. PDF

Farruggia, F.T., M.H.H. Stevens and M.A. Vincent. 2008. A floristic description of a
neotropical coastal savanna in Belize. Caribbean Journal of Science 44(1): 53-69. PDF

Ahlquist, T. and F.T. Farruggia. 2007. Arboretum tour guide and campus map of Arizona State University. School of Life Sciences and the International Institute for Species Exploration. PDF

Warner, N.R., J. Levy, K. Harpp and F.T. Farruggia. 2007. Drinking water quality in
Nepal's Kathmandu Valley: a survey and assessment of selected controlling site
characteristics. Hydrogeology Journal 16(2): 321-334. PDF

Levy, J., K. Sun, R.H. Findlay, F.T. Farruggia, J. Porter, K.L. Mumy, J. Tomaras
and A. Tomaras. 2007. Transport of E. coli bacteria through laboratory columns
of glacial outwash sediments: estimating model parameter values based on
sediment characteristics. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology 89: 71-106. PDF