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Plant Evolution and Systematics 1982–2022: Changing Questions and Methods as Seen by a Participant

Part of the Progress in Botany book series

Abstract

This review describes, in chronological order, the research topics in which I have been involved over the past 40 years, a time during which the study of plant evolution, systematics, and biodiversity has moved from relying solely on morphology to relying mostly on DNA sequences and now partially assembled genomes. When I began to do systematics, traveling to tropical countries for fieldwork was a big draw and probably influenced my initial choice of plant groups to work on. In 1989, I made a conscious decision to shift my focus from monographs, floras, and herbarium-based species discovery to the evolution of plant sexual systems and the functioning of unisexual flowers, selecting first Siparunaceae and then Cucurbitaceae as suitable groups. I also became an early adopter of molecular clock approaches in the study of biogeography and plant/animal mutualisms, and was involved in the discovery of natural horizontal gene transfers in seed plants, which in turn led to an interest in mitochondrial and plastid genomes in parasitic plants. Three topics, bee behaviour on flowers, the evolution of ant/plant interactions, and plant phenology, have accompanied me from my dissertation to the present, while others, such as molecular cytogenetics, grew from the interests and expertise of students. The breadth of topics reflects a great change in systematics since the 1980s, namely the increasing role of collaborations. Monographs, floras, and cladistics (when morphology based) used to be done in isolation. With DNA data came lab work, bioinformatics, and both the need and the possibility to collaborate, which brought systematists out of their niche, gave comparative biology a huge push, and resulted in a better integration of biodiversity studies within biology.

Keywords

  • Bees
  • Biogeography
  • Botanical gardens
  • Molecular clocks
  • Molecular cytogenetics
  • Natural horizontal gene transfer
  • Phylogenetics
  • Plant/animal mutualisms
  • Sexual systems
  • Species discovery
  • Stable naming

Communicated by Ulrich Lüttge

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Acknowledgements

I thank Ulrich Lüttge for inviting me to write this essay. Huge thanks for support and good company during my 17 years in Munich go to Andreas Beck, Peter Döbbeler, Eva Facher, Andreas Fleischmann, Marc Gottschling, Günter Gerlach, and Andreas Gröger.

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Renner, S.S. (2022). Plant Evolution and Systematics 1982–2022: Changing Questions and Methods as Seen by a Participant. In: Progress in Botany. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/124_2022_61

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