Who dares to call oneself a plant morphologist?

Jürg Schönenberger

Morphology is deeply rooted in organismal biology and the latter has in recent years gone through a steady decline in interest in the scientific community. As a consequence, plant morphology as a discipline has been marginalized and many may consider it as an “excessively classical” area, in which everything worth studying has already been studied. The main goal of my presentation is to show that this is far from the truth and that thanks to new concepts and techniques, plant morphology has much to contribute to modern botanical research and is a central part of evolutionary botany. I will do this by using examples from comparative research on floral development and morphology in the asterid order Ericales, which is highly diverse at all levels of its structure and biology, most conspicuously so in its flowers. Topics that I will deal with include (1) a detailed comparative study of floral structure in the balsaminoid clade (Balsaminaceae, Marcgraviaceae, Tetrameristaceae) that has helped to identify a series of potential non-molecular synapomorphies for the clade, (2) a new concept of floral organization in Impatiens (Balsaminaceae) based on comparative floral development and structure, and (3) developmental patterns of anther inversion among ericoid (Clethraceae, Cyrillaceae, Ericaceae) and sarracenioid families (Actinidiaceae, Roridulaceae, Sarraceniaceae). Finally, I will attempt a look into the future of comparative plant morphology and discuss the use of morphological data in modern analytical approaches such as morphospace analyses and broad-scale analyses of character evolution.

Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research
Publication date
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
106042 Systematic botany, 106008 Botany, 106012 Evolutionary research
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