September 2018 Webcast: Modern Evolutionary Biology and the Changing Names of Plants

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"Were you told not to bother with common names of plants because they are so variable, and instead to learn Latin names, which – we were promised – would never change? If so, then you know that has proven to not be true! Aster is no longer the Latin name for all our asters! Little bluestem is no longer an Andropogon. What happened? Are plant taxonomists simply torturing all of us and hoping that we will keep buying new Plant Guides? What is the science behind these name changes?

Modern plant biology now allows evolutionary biologists to directly access and study the genetic material of plants, and use it to build classifications, rather than guessing at relationships from the appearance of the plants and other more superficial features. So this has exposed a number of situations where outward similarity is misleading, thus classifications based on superficial similarity needed to change to reflect underlying relationships. While annoying when this means changes in names, these new insights also present a wealth of new information. We will look at some of the principles behind using genetic material for classifications, as well as the big picture of how our plants fit into these classifications, and some of the interesting surprises that modern evolutionary classifications have brought to light."

Guest: Anton (Tony) Reznicek, Curator, University of Michigan Herbarium.

B.Sc. University of Guelph
Ph.D. University of Toronto,

"My Research centers on the systematics and evolution of sedges (Cyperaceae), with a focus on the Great Lakes region as well as the neotropics, especially Mexico. I also have a strong interest in the biogeography of the northeastern North American flora, concentrating on the Great Lakes region, including plant migration and colonization, origin and persistence of relict plant species and communities, wetland vegetation dynamics, especially of the Great Lakes shorelines,
and the evolution of the endemic flora of the region. In addition, I am active in the conservation of the Great Lakes region flora. My field work has been varied, including much of the US and Canada, including several trips to Alaska, many trips to Mexico, plus some trips to South America and China."

Webcast Date: 
Wednesday, September 12, 2018 - 12:00pm