Hunting Plant Diversity on the Tibetan Plateau

For February 13, 2019   
Hi WN@TL Fans,
Two hundred and ten years ago Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same day (February 12) an ocean apart — and a mere nine days after Felix Mendelssohn.
Lincoln went on to become an innovator of, among other things, a method for “buoying vessels over shoals” (US Patent 6,469).  As Walt Whitman noted, one of those vessels proved to be the ship of state.
Darwin helped lift biology into the modern era. He drew extensively on his observations made during the five year mission of the HMS Beagle, notably the time in the Galapagos Islands.  
To me part of the irony is that evolution through natural selection was happening in his home islands — the British Isles.  Why did Darwin not first see it there?  
Biologists still often go to new regions to observe phenomena and to test ideas.  Sometimes, as with the Galapagos, the new regions are geographical. Other times the regions are metaphorical:  new techniques, new modes of analysis, new levels drilling down from the ecosystem to the population, from the morphological to the genetic, from the DNA sequence to gene expression.
The robustness of a theory lives in part in how well it explains how Nature works across many such layers.  
This week (February 13Deren Eaton of Columbia University will be here as the guest of the James F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution and the Institute’s “Darwin Days” celebration.  Professor Eaton will take us to new technological regions, as well as to Tibet where he studies plants that give us insights into the processes that drive evolution.  It’s a high altitude exploration into some deep biological mysteries.   
Here’s how he describes his talk, entitled “Hunting the Origins of Plant Diversity in the Tibetan Plateau.”
The Hengduan Mountains of China on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau are home to one of the most diverse plant communities in the world. Of the many types of plant that have evolved & diversified in this region, the genus Pedicularis stands out for its exceptional diversity of flower forms across more than 300 local species.
A connection between floral diversity and species diversity has long been recognized within flowering plants, and the  diversity of Pedicularis in the Hengduan Mountains provides an ideal system in which to investigate the role that interspecific reproductive interactions play in shaping this pattern. The Eaton lab combines genomic analyses with field-based experiments and community analyses to explore the roles that gene flow and reproductive interference play in shaping Pedicularis evolution.
About the Speaker
Deren Eaton is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology at Columbia University. He is an evolutionary biologist and botanist with broad interests in plant biodiversity – from the scale of global patterns and community assembly, to speciation and genetic variation within species. Deren’s research is rooted in organismal biology and fieldwork, with projects focused in the Tibetan plateau and cloud forests of Central and South America. 
A common theme across his work is the development of new computational or statistical methods for analyzing comparative data, and the implementation and support for reproducible science. 
Deren completed a postdoc at Yale in 2017; earned his PhD from the University of Chicago in 2014; and his BSc from the University of Minnesota in 2007.
Darwin was the co-originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection, along with Alfred Russel Wallace. On July 1, 1858, each had their papers read to the Linnean Society of London.  Wallace was 14 years younger than Darwin, and born into a family without wealth or connections, in contrast to Darwin. Wallace explored and collected for years at a time in the Amazon and on the Orinoco in South America, and later in Indonesia and Malaysia.  His birthday is January 8.  Maybe some year we could have a Wallace Week.
Next week (February 20) Don Mikulic from the Illinois State Geological Survey will help us explore the over-arching impacts of the geological feature known as the Niagara Escarpment that starts near its namesake falls and curves over through Ontario and Lake Huron and skirts along the southern U.P. and then through the Door Peninsula and into eastern Wisconsin.  
I hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.
Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Extension Division