Adventures in plant biodiversity: new tools, classic studies and the nature of plant species

Dr. Jeannette Whitton, associate professor of botany and director of the UBC Herbarium in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, was the first presenter in the 2010-11 Science in Society Speaker Series, hosted by Okanagan College and the Okanagan Science Centre. This talk was in celebration of the International Year of Biodiversity, 2010.

 Professor Whitton explored the challenging question of how can we decide which species to save when we don’t know how many species we have? Her presentation entitled: Adventures in plant biodiversity: new tools, classic studies and the nature of plant species, took place on October 18  in the Lecture Theatre of the Vernon campus of the Okanagan College.

Plants form the fabric of the landscape, and represent an intriguing component of biodiversity.  Many plants can double their DNA content, interbreed with other species or give up traditional reproductive modes and become clonal. Examples of these unusual strategies will be used to illustrate how plant biologists use combinations of new tools and classic studies to help us understand the basic units of biodiversity.  This fundamental understanding of what exists comes into play in prioritizing and evaluating species for conservation.

Prof. Whitton studies plant evolution, focusing on plants that have either very wide or very narrow breeding tendencies ­from hybrids through asexual plants, and the factors that affect these tendencies. She received her PhD from the University of Connecticut in 1994 and was a post-doctoral fellow at Indiana University before joining UBC in 1997. She currently serves as the director of the UBC Herbarium in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, and as a member of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

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