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Dr. Steven Newmaster
Associate Professor

Dr. Steven Newmaster


Office: Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG) Rm. 208
Ext: 56002
LAB (Chemistry): CBG 229
LAB (Cryptic Diversity): CBG 231


As a boy I was fascinated with plant diversity, exploring every corner of the forest behind my house. Three decades later this fascination remains, but the scale of my explorations has expanded. My research program has projects on every continent and continues to discover cryptic diversity including new species and ethnomedicines from the arctic to the amazon. My educational foundation is varied, including natural resource management at Sir Sanford Fleming College, and an undergraduate degree in botany from the University of Guelph. I spent several years working as a provincial research botanist in Ontario before attending the University of Alberta where I completed a Ph.D. on the patterns of floristic diversity in temperate rainforests. I was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship with the Ontario Forest Research Institute and Canadian Forest Service in Sault Ste. Marie where I studied the application of multivariate methods to plant diversity, community classification systems and ethnobotany. I returned to the University of Guelph in 2002 as Director of the Herbarium and assistant professor in the Botany Department. Currently my research team is situated within the science complex and Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) Herbarium. I am a member of a number of professional societies, including the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, American Society of Plant Taxonomists, American Bryological and Lichenological Society, Society of Ethnobiology, Society of Ethnobotanists, and International Society of Ethnobiology.


B.Sc. - University of Guelph
Ph.D. - University of Alberta


My research program explores biodiversity; the variety of life across landscapes, and communities at both the organismal and molecular levels. I am particularly intrigued by cryptic diversity, the maintenance of diversity at one level that is not readily apparent at others. My students and I employ new molecular techniques for exploring cryptic diversity in plants. We cultivate and test hypotheses in order to understand the evolutionary and ecological processes underlying the origin, distribution and maintenance of biodiversity. Our exploration of cryptic variation includes 1) long-term, densely sampled and well-characterized temperate systems within the Flora of Ontario, 2) under sampled and remote regions of the planet (e.g., within the Amazon, Asia) and 3) variation within plant species (intraspecific variation in ecotypes) and variation within individuals (endopolyploidy).

In my lab we use analyses of the genetic diversity distributed within 'species' to provide a powerful framework for recognizing cryptic variation. We are assembling several matrices of species variation (morphometrics, genome size, ploidy, endopolyploidy, DNA barcodes), traits and historical biotic/abiotic factors that influence the genetic architectures of many plant species. I am interested in how this variation in plant diversity has been shaped by global climatic fluctuations, environmental gradients and the separation of populations by geographic barriers during the past 3 million years and, to a lesser extent, by more ancient physical processes. Listed below are three key areas of my research program.

Forest Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management

My research program has a long history of involvement in forest biodiversity and ecosystem management. Much of this research has focused on the impacts of ecosystem management on forest biodiversity. Over a dozen projects and more than 3000 long term ecological research plots were established throughout the province of Ontario, some of which we have been monitoring for over 20 years. I have conducted peer-reviewed research on the patterns of floristic diversity in forested ecosystems, including some of the first detailed research studies on the impacts of forest management on phanerogams and cryptogams. Our research has evolved to include DNA barcoding as a tool to overcome taxonomic impediments. For example we are working with wildlife biologist to reconstruct dietary diversity of the endangered woodland caribou using plant DNA barcoding. We are barcoding the plant/lichen species recovered from caribou scat collected within different forest ecosystems at different times of the year in order to test hypotheses in conservation biology (e.g., bioenergetics hypotheses). My recent research is focusing on how ecosystem management influences forest community structure using a theoretical model based on functional plant traits and genomic variation among populations.

Plant Biodiversity Genomics and the Barcode of Life

My research lab at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) in the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics has established a leadership role in plant DNA barcoding. This is evidenced by authorship or co-authorship of much of the initial work (13 journal articles) in this area. My research associate Dr Aron Fazekas and I are interested in developing barcoding applications and tools that can be used to overcome taxonomic impediments or to reveal cryptic diversity. This includes the identification of below ground patterns of diversity through barcoding roots and seed banks. We are also barcoding animal scat in order to help understand dietary diversity of various animals (e.g., woodland caribou, bats) supporting our colleague' research in zoology and ecology. We are also members of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL) and the International Plant Barcoding Working Group with ongoing participation and contribution to a number of active projects aiming to advance the global plant barcoding initiative.

My lab is also exploring variation in genome size and endopolyploidy in plants from our field collections. Students in my lab have access to large numbers of plant samples with both barcode and trait data collections. Our current research projects include research on the causes and consequences of variation in endoreduplication using experimental studies in the greenhouse and growth chambers.

The Assemblage of Biodiversity Knowledge

Currently we are developing the concept of the assemblage of biodiversity knowledge - a coming together of different ways of knowing and valorising the variety of life. Our interdisciplinary approach brings together three quite different knowledge communities; Traditional Aboriginal Knowledge (TK), Social and Natural Scientific knowledge (SK). My research associate Dr Subramanyam Ragupathy and I are exploring the relationship between TK and SK systems of botanical classification and the corresponding valorisation(s) of biological diversity. In so doing it will respond to increasingly urgent global imperatives to understand and protect both cultural and biological diversity as urged by the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), UNESCO's 'Man and Biosphere Programme' and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. This research seeks to add value to both TK and highly scientific DNA based approaches to understanding diversity as they work together to potentially create new knowledge in dialogue. Our research in ethnobotany genomics explores the variation in genomic sequences from many species in the context of both scientific and aboriginal classifications. Our recent research undertaken with the Irulas and Malasars cultures of India suggests that TK classification systems are very complex, multi-mechanistic and not congruent with that of the SK classification system. There is great value in exploring both classification systems simultaneously, and this has resulted in our discovery of new cryptic species and ethnomedicine that have been overlooked when implementing classical plant taxonomy.

Selected Publications

Books, Chapters and Floras

Fazekas A.J., Kuzmina M., Newmaster S.G. and Hollingsworth P.M. DNA Barcoding Methods for Land Plants [invited chapter]. In: DNA Barcodes: Methods and Protocols. Edited by WJ Kress and DL Erickson. Springer, New York. (in press).

Newmaster, S.G., Lacroix, C.A. and Roosenboom C.R. Authentic Learning as a Mechanism for Learner Centredness. In: Academic Service-Learning Across Disciplines: Models, Outcomes, and Assessment. Edited by J.H. Westover. Champaign, IL: Common Ground Publishing. (in press).

Newmaster, S.G., Earley ,C., Fazekas, A.J., Lacroix, C.A., McMullin, T., Lacey, B., Maloles, J., Henry, T. and Williams, P. 2010. Woodlot Biodiversity. Friesens Press, Toronto, Ontario. 350 pp.

Newmaster, S.G. and Ragupathy, S. Flora Ontario Integrated Botanical Information System (FOIBIS). Biodiversity Institute of Ontario Herbarium, Guelph, ON. []. 2009.

Newmaster, S.G. 2007. The genus Arctoa, in Ed.Com. (Eds.), Flora of North America Vol. 27, Oxford University Press.

Newmaster, S.G. 2007. The genus Kiaeria, in Ed.Com. (Eds.), Flora of North AmericaVol. 27, Oxford. University Press.

Newmaster, S.G. 2007. The genus Onchophorus, in Ed.Com. (Eds.), Flora of North America Vol. 27, Oxford University Press.

Newmaster, S.G., Harris, A.G. and Kershaw, L.J. Wetland Plants of Ontario. Lone Pine Press, Edmonton, Alberta. 241 pp. 2001.

Newmaster, S.G., Lehela, A., Oldham, M.J., Uhlig, P.W.C. and McMuray, S. Ontario Plant List. Ontario Forest Research Institute, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Forest Research Information Paper No. 123. 650 pp. + appendices.

Research Papers (Students in bold)

Pejin, B., Bianco, A., Newmaster, S.G., Sabovljevic, M., Vujisic, L.J., Tesevic, V. Vajs, V., and S. De Rosa. 2011. Fatty acids of Rhodobryum ontariense (Bryaceae). journal Natural Product Research (in press).

Bainard, L., Bainard, J.D., Newmaster, S.G. and Klironomos, J.N. 2011. Mycorrhizal symbiosis stimulates endoreduplication in angiosperms. Plant Cell & Environment doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3040.2011.02354.x.

Maloles, J.R., Ragupathy, S., Nirmala, C., Kabeer, A.A., and Newmaster, S.G. 2011. Exploring Biocultural Diversity - The Fine Scale Ethnotaxa Classification of Millet. Journal of Ethnobiology 31(2).

Kesanakurti, P.R. Fazekas, A.J., Burgess, K., Percy, D., Newmaster, S.G., Graham, S.W., Barrett, S.C.H., Hajibabaei, M. and Husband, B.C. 2011. Spatial patterns of plant diversity below-ground as revealed by DNA barcoding. Molecular Ecology doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2010.04989.x

Burgess, K., Fazekas, A.J., Kesanakurti, P.R., Graham, S.W., Husband, B.C., Newmaster, S.G., Percy, D., Hajibabaei, M. and Barrett, S.C.H. 2011. Discriminating plant species in a local temperate flora using the rbcL+matK DNA barcode. Methods in Ecology and Evolution doi: 10.1111/j.2041-210X.2011.00092.x

McMullin, R.T., Duinker, P.N., Richardson, D.H.S., Cameron, R.P., Hamilton, D.C. and Newmaster, S.G. 2010. Relationships between the structural complexity and lichen community in coniferous forests of southwestern Nova Scotia. Forest Ecology and Management 260:744-749.

Bainard J.D. and Newmaster, S.G. 2010 Widespread endopolyploidy in bryophytes. Journal of Botany doi:10.1155/2010/316356.

Fazekas, A.J., Steeves, R., Newmaster, S.G. and Hollingsworth, P.M. 2010. Stopping the stutter: Improvements in sequence quality from regions with mononucleotide repeats can increase the usefulness of non-coding regions for DNA barcoding. TAXON 13: 694-697(4).

Bainard J.D., Fazekas A.J. and Newmaster, S.G. 2010. Methodology significantly affects genome size estimates: quantitative evidence using bryophytes. Cytometry: Part A. 2010. DOI: 10.1002/cyto.a.20902.

Fazekas A.J., Steeves R. and Newmaster S.G. 2010. Improving sequencing quality from PCR products containing long mononucleotide repeats. Biotechniques 48(4): 277-285.

Newmaster, S.G. and Ragupathy, S. 2010. Ethnobotany Genomics - Discovery and Innovation in a New Era of Exploratory Research. BioMed Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 6:2: 1-11.

CBOL Plant Working Group. 2009. A DNA barcode for land plants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS USA), 106(31): 12794-12797.

Newmaster, S.G., Murugesan, M., Ragupathy, S., and Balasubramaniam, V. 2009. Ethnobotany Genomics study reveals three new species from the Velliangiri Holy Hills in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, Western Ghats, India. Ethnobotany 21: 2-24.

Newmaster, S.G and Ragupathy, S. 2009. Ethnobotany genomics - use of DNA barcoding to explore cryptic diversity in economically important plants. Indian Journal of Science and Technology Vol.2 No 5: 2-8.

Ragupathy, S. and Newmaster, S.G. 2009. Valorizing the 'Irulas' traditional knowledge of medicinal plants in the Kodiakkarai Reserve Forest, India. BioMed Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 5:10 (doi:10.1186/1746-4269-5-10).

Ragupathy, S., Newmaster, S.G., Velusamy, B. and Murugesan, M. 2009. DNA barcoding discriminates a new cryptic grass species revealed in an ethnobotany study by the hill tribes of the Western Ghats in southern India. Molecular Ecology Resources 9(Supp. l.): 172-180. (doi: 10.1111/j.1755-0998.2009.02642.x).

Newmaster, S.G and Ragupathy, S. 2009. Testing Plant Barcoding in a Sister Species Complex of Pantropical Acacias (Mimosoideae, Fabaceae) Molecular Ecology Resources 9 (Suppl. 1),164-171 (doi: 10.1111/j.1755-0998.2009.02641.x).

Fazekas, A.J., Kesanakurti, P.R., Burgess K.S., Percy, D.M., Graham, S.W., Barrett, S.C.H., Newmaster, S.G., Hajibabaei, M. and Husband, B.C. 2009. Are plant species inherently harder to discriminate than animal species using DNA barcoding markers? Molecular Ecology Resources 9(Supp. l.): 130-139 doi: 10.1111/j.1755-0998.2009.02652.x.

Newmaster, S.G., Ragupathy, S. and Janovec, J. 2009. A Botanical Renaissance: State-of-the-art DNA Barcoding Facilitates an Automated Identification Technology (AIT) System for Plants. International Journal of Computer Applications in Technology 35(1):50-60.

Ragupathy, S., Newmaster, S.G., Murugesan M. and Velusamy, B. 2008. Consensus of the 'Malasars' traditional aboriginal knowledge of medicinal plants in the Velliangiri holy hills, India. BioMed Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 4:8 1-14.

Cole, H., Pitt, D. and Newmaster, S.G. 2008. Long-term outcome of precommercial thinning in northwestern New Brunswick: Part II: Recovery of Floristic diversity, iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry doi:10.3832/ifor0470-0010145.

Newmaster, S.G, Velusamy, B., Murugesan, M. and Ragupathy, S. 2008. Tripogon cope, a new species of Tripogon (Poaceae: Chloridoideae) in India with a Morphometric analysis and synopsis of Tripogon in India. Systematic Botany 33(4): pp. 695-701.

Cole, H., Newmaster, S.G. and Bell, F.W. 2008. Influence of Microhabitat on Bryophyte Diversity In Ontario Mixedwood Boreal Forest. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 38:1867-1876.

Fazekas, A.J., Burgess, K.S., Kesanakurti, P.R., Graham, S.W., Newmaster, S.G., Husband, B.C., Percy, D.M., Hajibabaei, M. and Barrett, S.C.H. 2008. Multiple multilocus DNA barcodes from the plastid genome discriminate plant species equally well. PLoS ONE 3:1-12.

Newmaster, S.G., Fazekas, A.J., Steeves, R. and Janovec, J. 2008. Testing Candidate Plant Barcode Regions in the Myristicaceae. Molecular Ecology Resources 8:480-490.

Newmaster, S.G. and Ragupathy, S. 2007. Exploring Ethnobiological Classifications for Novel Alternative Medicine: A case study of Cardiospermum halicacabum L (Modakathon, Balloon Vine) as a traditional herb for treating arthritis, Ethnobotany 19: 1-20.

Newmaster, S.G., Ragupathy, S., Balasubramaniam, N.C. and Ivanoff, R.F. 2007. The Multi-mechanistic Taxonomy of The Irulas In Tamil Nadu, South India. Journal of Ethnobiology 27: 31-44.

Newmaster, S.G., Bell, F.W. and Parker, W.C. 2007. Effects of forest floor disturbances by mechanical site preparation on floristic diversity in a central Ontario clearcut. Forest Ecology and Management 246:196-207.

Newmaster, S.G, Lacroix, C.A. and Roosenboom, C.R. 2006. Authentic Learning as a Mechanism for Learner Centredness. The International Journal of Learning 13(6):103-112.

Newmaster, S.G., Fazekas, A.J. and Ragupathy, S. 2006. DNA barcoding in the land plants: evaluation of rbcL in a multigene tiered approach. Canadian Journal of Botany 84:335-341.

Newmaster, S.G., Bell, F.W., Roosenboom, C.R., Cole, H.A. and Towill, W.D. 2006. Restoration of Floral Diversity through Plantations on Abandoned Agricultural Land. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 36:1-18.

Newmaster, S.G., Ragupathy, S., Ivanoff, R.F. and Nirmala, C.B. 2006. Mechanisms of Ethnobiological Classification. Ethnobotany 18(1,2):4-26.

Newmaster, S.G., Vitt, D.H., Belland, R.J. and Arsenault, A. 2005. The ones we left behind: Comparing plot sampling and floristic habitat sampling for estimating biodiversity. Diversity and Distribution 11:57-72.


BIOL*1070 Discovering Biodiversity I am engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and have published peer-reviewed pedagogical research. My past research has investigated the mechanisms of engagement in student centred learning. My recent SoTL research investigates 1) learning objects as mechanisms of engagement, 2) active learning within large first year biology classes, and 3) ancient pedagogies from some of the most remote cultures on the planet. This later objective bridges some of our ethnobiological research with basic theory on how different cultures assemble and share knowledge. This research underpins and builds on experiential constructivism theory stating that effective learning is entrenched in experiences between the learner and educational objectives, which assemble knowledge in an iterative process. This also supports some of our current research in the ancient pedagogy of ayurvedic medicine where the repeated use of experiential learning objects is at the core of sustaining traditional knowledge systems since 4500BC.


Neil Webster (M.Sc.), Forest Biodiversity, Canada
Kevan Berg (PhD), Ethnoecology - Tayal Biocultural Diversity, Taiwan
Olivia Sylvester (Co-supervised PhD - Natural Resources Institute, Univ. of Manitoba) Palm Diversity & Ethnobiology, Costa Rica/Central America
Wayne Bell (PhD), Biodiversity and Forest Ecosystem Management, Canada
Troy McMullin (Ph.D), Lichen Diversity and Forest Ecology, N. America
Jillian Bainard (Ph.D.), Genomic Diversity in Plants, North America
Royce Steeves (Ph.D.), Myristicaeae (nutmeg) Diversity, Central and S. America
Dr. Prasad Kesanakurti (Post-doctoral Fellow) Biodiversity Genomics, Canada
Dr. Mark Leithead(Post-doctoral Fellow) Biodiversity Genomics, Brazil


Dr. Aron Fazekas (Research Associate) Biodiversity Genomics - DNA Barcoding
Dr. Subramanyam Ragupathy (Research Associate) and Chief Curator
Jose Maloles (Botanist) Field Botany & Publication Graphics and Design
Brian Lacey (Botanist) Field Botany & Publication Layout and Design
Annabel Newmaster (Anthropologist/Naturalist) Ethnobotany & Natural History Education
Joan Riemer (Photographer) Natural History Imagery & Publications
Patricia Beader (Artist) Natural History Illustrations including species nova