Daniel Crawford is Adjunct Professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and Adjunct Curator in the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas. Together with Jeffrey Doyle, Douglas Soltis, Pamela Soltis and Jonathan Wendel, he recently edited an issue for Philosophical Transactions B, entitled ‘Contemporary and future studies in plant speciation, morphological/floral evolution and polyploidy: honouring the scientific contributions of Leslie D. Gottlieb to plant evolutionary biology’. We asked Daniel a few questions about this topic and how the issue came together.
Who was Leslie Gottlieb and why did you want to put together an issue to commemorate his work?
Leslie Gottlieb, who died in 2012, was on the faculty of the University of California, Davis for his entire professional career. The other editors and I recognized that his rigorous, hypothesis-driven research over three decades addressed basic questions in plant evolutionary biology. Leslie Gottlieb’s work and his personal interactions influenced the research careers of all of the editors, as it did the careers of generations of plant biologists.
How is his legacy living on in current research in plant science?
As with any first-rate scientist, Gottlieb’s research often raised as many questions as it solved, and when interpreting his data, he always meticulously pointed what could and could not be concluded from his data. The contributions in this theme issue document that Gottlieb’s work continues to inspire current research in plant evolutionary biology, often using techniques not available to him. The new techniques are providing insights into the basic questions in plant evolution that Gottlieb studied.
What are the main themes that emerge in the papers in this issue?
One theme emerging from this issue is that sympatric speciation in plants, whereby a new species evolves from a single ancestral species whilst inhabiting the same geographical region, may be more common than has been appreciated, with the transition from outcrossing (cross-fertilisation between different plants) to selfing (self-fertilisation) being one of many factors that could facilitate speciation. The importance of hybridization in transferring adaptive traits between species and in creating evolutionary novelty, including the origin of new species, is another major theme of this issue, just as it is an intense area of research in plant evolution.
A dominant theme emerging from studies of synthetic and naturally occurring polyploids is that polyploidy is a dynamic creative process in plant evolution. Genomic studies now document that there have been one or more rounds of whole genome duplications during land plant evolution.
What do you think are the most exciting questions at the moment in plant biology?
One exciting issue is elucidating the genetic-genomic basis of phenotypic traits important in adaptive evolution. As illustrated in this issue, these traits include floral form, flower colour, and plants defense against herbivores. These questions require intensive, multidisciplinary studies to demonstrate the adaptive significance of a trait in nature as well as document the genetic architecture of the trait.
What made you pursue a research career in botany, and what have been your personal career highlights?
As a child, I was fascinated by the variety of shapes and colors of flowers that grew in the rural Midwestern U. S. where I was raised. This interest continued and led to a career in botany, and I have retained this fascination with flowering plants to the present. My personal career highlights are my collaborations with colleagues in the U. S., Chile, the Canary Islands, and other countries on studies of the origin, evolution, and conservation of plants on oceanic islands, especially the Robinson Crusoe and Canary Islands.
‘Contemporary and future studies in plant speciation, morphological/floral evolution and polyploidy’ publishes on Monday June 23 2014.