Morphospaces, Morphometrics, and Phylogenetics

Jürg Schönenberger, Marion Chartier, Ricardo Kriebel

Morphospaces are multidimensional mathematical representations used to study the evolution of morphological diversity and the evaluation of evolved shapes among theoretically possible ones. Although widely applied in zoology and despite of their great potential to allow for new insights into the diversity and evolution of plant morphology, morphospace analyses and related approaches have so far been largely disregarded in botany, with notable exceptions in the field of pollination biology.
There are different ways of describing plant morphology in order to create a morphospace. This may be achieved by simply measuring, describing or counting organs, or by analyzing and comparing their shapes. The latter approach - morphometrics - is particularly useful to compare phenotypes of closely related taxa and requires the use of a particular mathematical treatment of the data.
To describe and understand the direction of the morphological evolution of clades, a phylomorphospace may be created, in which a phylogenetic framework is plotted within the morphospace, thus providing temporal landmarks for transitions identified in the morphospace considered. In addition, the use of a phylomorphospace allows to identify evolutionary trends in the morphological diversification of taxa and to compare the magnitude of their morphological evolution. Phylogenetic relationships are usually added to a morphospace by reconstructing possible ancestral states for all nodes of the phylogeny and including them in the morphospace or by linking extant taxa and their related fossils in the morphospace.
Despite the great potential of morphospace analyses, one has to keep in mind that they are mathematical abstractions based on the researcher’s choice of characters and of mathematical tools for the quantification of morphological similarity. However, if the results are interpreted carefully, morphospace analyses are powerful tools that may lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the driving forces and constraints that have shaped the diversity of plant morphology during the course of evolution.
The aim of this symposium is to bring together scientists (including zoologists) already working with a morphospace approach in order to highlight its possibilities and potential for future research on plants and to promote morphospace analyses within the botanical community. The symposium is composed of a theoretical section that aims at presenting the main methods for creating and using morphospaces and an applied section that aims at presenting recent, practical morphospace applications in plant science at different taxonomic levels and in different systematic groups.

Department für Botanik und Biodiversitätsforschung
Externe Organisation(en)
University of Wisconsin, Madison
ÖFOS 2012
106042 Systematische Botanik, 106008 Botanik, 106012 Evolutionsforschung
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