Biogeography • chemical ecology • plant secondary chemical variation • plant-animal interactions • herbivory • pollination • volatile organic compounds • allelopathy • plant competition • analytical chemistry • terpenoids • phenylpropanoids



I use variation in plant secondary chemistry to help understand biological interactions. Plant secondary chemistry can vary considerably, both within local populations and at greater geographic scales among populations. This variation can greatly affect the interactions of plants with their environment and is often the result of biotic factors, such as herbivory and competition, and of abiotic factors, such as temperature, moisture, and nutrient availability. Much of my work involves measuring secondary chemical diversity in plants and conducting field and laboratory experiments to test how this variation affects associated species and whether these interactions are responsible for the current levels of chemical diversity. My chemical ecology experience covers a diversity of biological topics with work in herbivory, pollination, allelopathy, competition, host specialization, and ethnobotany. Climate change and other environmental stressors are expected to alter plant interactions and ultimately affect plant secondary chemistry, and so my work also incorporates global change ecology.

My research has focused on three important questions: 1) How do species vary in their secondary chemistry, 2) How does this variation affect chemically-mediated community interactions, and 3) What selective forces maintain or change plant chemical diversity? To answer these questions I have worked on a diversity of plant and insect species, including commercial and agricultural species, from a variety of ecosystems, ranging from the Mediterranean to alpine and boreal ecosystems in Europe and North America. My research approach incorporates measurements across environmental gradients, common garden experiments, and field and laboratory manipulations. This research has important implications for ecological function, agricultural productivity, response to changes in climate, and species losses.

Much of my work specializes in two broad groups of compounds: terpenoids, both volatile (mono- and sesquiterpenes) and non-volatile (diterpenes), and compounds from the phenylpropanoid pathway (phenolic glycosides and phenylpropanoid glycosides). I have extensive experience with isolation, purification, and characterization of plant secondary metabolites. I use a number of analytical chemistry techniques, including high and ultra high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC and UHPLC) with UV, single quadrapole (SQ), time-of-flight (TOF) and tandem (MS-MS) mass spectrometry detectors, gas chromatography (GC) with both flame ionization (FID) and mass spectrometry (MS) detectors, high performance thin layer chromatography (HPTLC), and one- and two-dimensional (1H and 13C) nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.


Departments of Botany and Geography
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Department of Botany
University of Wisconsin-Madison
430 Lincoln Drive
Madison, WI 53706

Department of Geography
University of Wisconsin-Madison
550 North Park Street
Madison, WI 53706

ken (dot) keefoverring (at) wisc (dot) edu