SYMP 23-2
Frontiers in plant evolutionary ecology in the era of big botanical datasets

Friday, August 14, 2015: 8:30 AM
308, Baltimore Convention Center
Amy E. Zanne, Biological Sciences, The George Washington University, Washington, DC
Nathan J. B. Kraft, Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
Brody Sandel, Aarhus University
Cam Webb, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

For centuries, botanists have named, collected and compiled plants from around the globe, noting patterns as they went. We have accumulated numerous hypotheses about the evolution, ecology and biogeography of plants based on these anecdotes. Collaborative research networks and open data access have led to the development of large databases of plant traits, occurrence locations, climate and molecular sequences. As a result, ecologists and evolutionary biologists have had to face new computational hurdles, as we attempt to use these databases to answer some of botany’s most persistent and important questions The questions at hand then are what progress have we made in asking global-scale plant evolutionary ecology questions and what challenges remain for us to solve in the future?


Each of us in our own research or through involvement in working groups has made use of these growing resources and tools to ask global and synthetic questions about plants. These projects have all involved encountering and overcoming hurdles and appreciating those that still remain. We will present on the state of the field as we stepped into it. This will include presenting a series of long-standing questions that grew out of floristic studies but had yet to be tackled in a comprehensive quantitative manner. We will then provide vignettes from each of our projects that highlight exciting questions we have addressed including the challenges we were able to overcome. Such vignettes will include determining 1) how many species in the world are woody, 2) from where in the plant phylogeny we receive the greatest number of ecosystem services, and 3) how phylogenetic diversity is distributed spatially across the Neotropics. Finally, we will present remaining gaps and challenges in the field as we see them and how future botanists can devote research and tool development time to overcoming these hurdles. Through this talk, we will present our vision of the development of the field, progress we have made and how it may progress into the future.