Lynda Delph received her B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Arizona, and her Ph.D. from the University of Canterbury. She was a Fulbright Fellow at Canterbury, a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Otago, and a Busch Postdoctoral Fellow at Rutgers University. Delph joined Indiana University in 1990, and served as Associate Chair for the Department of Biology and Executive Director for Science Outreach at the College of Arts and Sciences. She was a Senior Associate Researcher at the New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study, and she currently serves as Professor and Section Associate Chair for the Evolution, Ecology and Behavior Program in the Department of Biology at IU.
Lynda Delph "is one of the top ten plant evolutionary biologists in the world" and she has made "ground-shifting" contributions to many central problems in evolutionary biology. These include adaptation and speciation in plants, diversity of plant breeding systems and gender dimorphism, and sex chromosome evolution. An "internationally renowned scientist," she uses a combination of field experiments, greenhouse crosses, and molecular genomics, while many researchers working on the same questions tend to use only a single methodology. The most important contribution of her empirical work is the discovery that many sex differences between male and female plants are the result of selection acting in different ways on the two sexes, with males in particular being constrained by the physiological cost of reproduction.
"Lynda is on everyone's top list of people working on sexual dimorphism (including animal or plant biologists)." Her work has illuminated both the ecological and evolutionary processes responsible for the evolution of sexual dimorphism, as well as the quantitative genetic basis of reproductive isolation between plant species. Delph showed that the hybrid offspring of crosses between plant species with heteromorphic chromosomes share a feature characteristic of hybrids in animal species, the first discovery of Haldane's Rule in plants. Delph's research has also highlighted the involvement of sexual selection in adaptation and speciation, a process that many scientists did not believe occurred in plants. She is particularly well known for her work on gynodioecy, which describes species that contain females and hermaphrodites. Her empirical and theoretical work has explained how the unisexual females of gynodiecious species persist. "Her work on Silene has become known as the one of the best integrative studies of sexual differentiation anywhere, as it connects population level processes to molecular levels of genetic architecture that result." "She is also arguably the world's expert in the application of quantitative genetics techniques to addressing evolutionary questions pertaining to plants."
Delph's research has been funded by more than 10 National Science Foundation grants over a span of twenty-eight years (through 2018). In addition, she served as PI on grants totaling over $3 million for activities that combine research, education, and outreach. Delph has published over 150 peer-reviewed "compellingly elegant" papers and book chapters; her work has been cited over 6,000 times and her cumulative h-index is 48 (Google Scholar). She is co-editor of a very influential volume on plant breeding systems: Gender and Sexual Dimorphism in Flowering Plants. Delph has received many prestigious honors and awards in her field, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Fulbright Fellowships (New Zealand and Finland) and a Fulbright Specialist Grant (France). She was elected Vice President of the American Society of Naturalists (2002) and President of the American Genetic Association (2014). And in 2010, she was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Delph received the IU Bicentennial Medal in September 2020 in recognition of her distinguished contributions to Indiana University.