Research interests:  My lab researches ecophysiological adaptations of plants to their environment. Questions my students and I have been investigating recently include:

1) Why does Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) lay its leaves flat during winter? The Christmas fern is a native, evergreen fern that lays its fronds prostrate against the ground during winter (Fig. B below). By comparing microclimate and photosynthetic gas exchange of naturally-flattened fronds to experimental fronds that had been propped upright, we demonstrated that flattening is beneficial for maintaining a warm, humid microclimate around leaves during a season that is otherwise cold and ddry.  This project was conducted at the Piedmont Environmental Center (approximately 5 minutes away from HPU). Our results were published in 2018 in the journal Environmental and Experimental Botany.

2) How do clouds affect photosynthesis and water loss in plants?
  This research was supported by a $205,000 NSF Physiological and Structural Systems grant (IOS 1122064), and involved travel with HPU students to mountain ranges around the world, including the Southern Alps (New Zealand), Rocky Mountains (USA), Appalachian Mountains (USA), and the Andes (Colombia).

3) What is the function of anthocyanin pigments in leaves of the terrestrial orchid, Tipularia discolor
Cranefly orchid is a native, wintergreen orchid that can be found in the understory of hardwood forests throughout North Carolina.  Examples of questions we are asking about this plant include:

– Is there an adaptive advantage to having purple leaf undersides? (see image d below)
– Is leaf spotting or purpling (b and c) a stress-induced response? Or is it genetic in nature?
– Are the same types of anthocyanins responsible for purpling in upper and lower surfaces?
– Do spots or purpling function to deter herbivory by browsing mammals during winter?


Lab Page:

Research Gate profile:

Google Scholar profile:

Recent Publications:
* denotes HPU undergraduate student co-authors

Hughes NM, *Gigantino G, *Hoffman K, *Willans B, Wommack A. 2019. Photosynthetic profiles of green, purple, and spotted-leaf morphotypes of Tipularia discolor (Orchidaceae) Southeastern Naturalist (in press)

*Forget SE, *Parker EM, Hughes NM. 2018. Effects of leaf prostration on microclimate and ecophysiology of the evergreen fern, Polystichum acrostichoides. Environmental and Experimental Botany 154: 80-88.

*Bayeur NM, *Carpenter KL, Hughes NM. 2018. Shade tolerance: an additional factor affecting the distribution of mountain beech and silver beech in New Zealand? TREES: Structure and Function 32: 539-547.

Segarra VA, Hughes NM, Ackerman K, Grider M, Lyda T, Vigueira PA. 2018. Student performance on the Test of Scientific Literacy Skills (TOSLS) does not change with assignment of a low-stakes grade. BMC Research Notes 11:422.

*Hernandez-Moreno, M, *Bayeur NM, *Coley HD, Hughes NM. 2017. Clouds homogenize shoot temperature, transpiration, and photosynthesis within crowns of Abies fraseri (Pursh.) Poiret. Oecologia 183(3): 667-676.

Sanchez A, Hughes NM, Smith WK. 2016. Leaf/shoot level ecophysiology in two broadleaf and two needle-leaf species under representative cloud regimes at alpine treeline Journal of Plant Ecology. 9(6): 762-772.

Hughes NM, Lev-Yadun S. 2015. Red/purple leaf margin coloration: Potential ecological and physiological functions. Environmental and Experimental Botany 119: 27-39.

Hughes NM, *Carpenter KL, *Cook DK, *Keidel TS, *Miller CN, *Neal JL, Sanchez A, Smith WK. 2015. Effects of cumulus clouds on microclimate and shoot-level photosynthetic gas exchange in Picea engelmannii and Abies lasiocarpa at treeline, Medicine Bow Mountains, Wyoming, USA. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 201: 26-37.

Sanchez A, Hughes NM, Smith WK. 2015. Importance of natural cloud regimes to ecophysiology in the alpine species, Caltha leptosepala and Arnica parryi, Snowy Range Mountains, southeast Wyoming, USA. Functional Plant Biology 42(2): 186-197.

Hughes NM, *Carpenter KL, *Keidel TS, *Miller CN, Waters, M.N., and Smith WK. 2014. Photosynthetic costs and benefits of adaxial versus abaxial anthocyanins in Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’ Planta 240(5):971-81

Berry CZ, Hughes NM, Smith WK. 2014. Cloud immersion: an important water source for spruce and fir saplings in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Oecologia 174: 319-326.

*Carpenter KL, *Keidel TS, *Pihl MC, Hughes NM. 2014. Support for a photoprotective function of winter leaf reddening in nitrogen-deficient individuals of Lonicera japonica. Molecules 19(11): 17810-17828

Full list of publications can be found here