CAREER: Correlates of diversification and the investigation of the accumulation of evidence for speciation: phylogeny and systematics of a rapid and recent radiation
It is widely accepted among evolutionary biologists that speciation is a gradual and constant process. As an empirical investigation of the unified species concept, this study seeks to understand how the evidence for speciation has accumulated over time, and to quantify the tempo and mode of trait evolution, in the North American group of the plant genus Castilleja (the paintbrushes) inferring if there is an order or a sequence for the acquisition of species properties, and if specific properties are more important than others at a certain times or depths in their evolutionary history. Additionally, paintbrushes are one of the most emblematic groups of wildflowers in western North America, but are also one of the most taxonomically difficult; this study will provide the evolutionary framework necessary to investigate species delimitation, and create a stable and useful infrageneric classification to aid in species identification, future discovery, and conservation. Furthermore, the proposed work will critically evaluate the evolutionary and ecological correlates of diversification, allowing for the discovery of the extent to which extrinsic (e.g. geography and/or ecology) and intrinsic (e.g. polyploidy and/or morphology) isolating mechanisms lead to increased diversification rates, and increase our understanding of the process of speciation in the heterogeneous mountains of western North America.
This project also integrates education and training across multiple subdisciplines in the biodiversity sciences (e.g. from molecular systematics to floristic research) and across multiple educational levels (from K-12 to postdoc). It is clear that federal land management and science agencies are facing a significant shortage of botanical expertise that will reduce our ability to conserve natural landscapes in the future. The richness found in the texture that the biodiversity sciences add to the natural world is where the Advanced Field Botany course proposed here will fill this growing need for botanical expertise, provide significant career opportunities to students, and enhance botanical education and research at the University of Idaho. Moreover, the collaborations with University of Idaho McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS) faculty and graduate students will ensure that this botanical knowledge flows to the more than 2,000 K-12 students and 200+ teachers that participate in MOSS education and training programs each year.