Cindy Looy, Nathalie Nagalingum, Michael Sundue, and I (Carl, in this case), are delighted that our grant proposal to apply “total evidence dating” (TED) methods to infer the timeline of vascular plant evolution has been (almost completely) approved! In lieu of embarrassing photos of the PIs, I’ll post here some of the figures from our application, to provide somewhat of a feel for what this project entails.
In which Carl goes to actual NorCal (or is it NoCal?) to spread the fern gospel with the North Coast Chapter of the CNPS (California Native Plants Society). A great time was had by all, or at least by Carl (thanks to Carol Ralph!).
And finally, vertebrates put on a pretty good show too, including this spectacular 8-inch or so beauty: Dicramptodon tenebrosus. It was just sitting there at Patrick’s Point!
The 19th International Botanical Congress, IBC 2017, was held from July 23 to 29. And a spectacle it was! Shenzhen pulled out all the stops–Olympics-style opening ceremonies complete with dancing children, huge living walls, the sides of skyscrapers lit up, free metro passage for everyone, airport style security to enter the building …. you name it! I’m not sure exactly how many people were there–the estimates I saw were around 6 to 7 thousand–but it was a lot. And great to meet old friends, make new ones, and see a lot of science! I didn’t take many photos, but will include a few here to give a taste.
Cave-master Libing Zhang and Champion Chun-Xiang Li very graciously hosted me and princely Paulo Labiak for fieldwork in Sichuan before the Botanical Congress. After a brief acclimatization in Chengdu, we hiked up Mt. Emei. It was spectacular, if humbling–we climbed up stone steps almost continually from approximately 600m elevation to 3000m. Libing played it cool, and lulled us into a sense of confidence, and then, wham, hit us with 2400 vertical meters of steps. And so many ferns! So many plants in general–it felt like the mountain had the flora of eastern North America x5 (loads of maples, Rubus, Polystichum, Cornus, Carya, etc., etc.) and then an additional flora of strange things I had never heard of before. Following Mt. Emei, we spent four days around Baoxing (the former “Muping” of, e.g., Cystopteris moupinensis fame), which was also spectacular.
Our indentured, I mean interns are leaving! The Rothfels lab was lucky enough to host two fantastic volunteers this summer–Jonathan Qu and Sraavya Sambara. They were awesome! And while it seems like they’ve just arrived, rumor has it that summer is almost over. Very sad for us! I have a suspicion, however, that we haven’t seen the last of these two…
The Botany meeting was in Fort Worth this year (post on that to follow), and in advance of the meeting, James Beck organized fieldwork in the Wichita and Arbuckle Mountains, Oklahoma. Over the course of the week we found 27 species of ferns and lycophytes (I think that was our final tally), which seems quite respectable to me! Our team included James from Wichita State, me (Carl), Forrest, and Ingrid from UC Berkeley, George Yatskievych from UT Austin, and Layne Huiet, Wei-Ting, and Tzu-Tong Kao from Duke. Good times and chiggers were had by all.
At the fieldhouse we had a very small very fiesty visitor (a Copperhead?). No botanists or snakes were injured in the recording of this video.
The Rothfels lab was blessed with a visit from a proud shocker, the legendary Dr. James Beck, of Wichita State. “Shocker” — one who harvests wheat into shocks? Or, in this case, an animated shock itself:
James was here for a labwork blitz, refining a protocol for generating genome-scale data from herbarium specimens using double-digest RAD sequencing (ddRAD). Over the course of a week, he and Ingrid ground through two plates of samples, from beginning to end. Very excited to see how this works out!
In between pipetting and bead clean-ups, James squeezed in some spore counting from apomictic Myriopteris gracilis (32 spores/sporangium = apomict; 64 spores/sporangium = sexual). In a flurry of glycerol and microscopy, he was able to count his 600th specimen–look for the results soon in a journal near you.
James’ visit also provided us with an excuse to get outside and look for some lycophytes! Over the course of some happy tromping in Marin Co. we found both Isoetes howellii and Isoetes nuttallii, as well as a nice smattering of ferns.
We had a fantastic pseudo-Rothfels lab expedition to the Jepson Prairie Reserve this past weekend. This site is part of the UC reserve system, a fantastic suite of protected natural areas dedicated to research, education, and conservation. The Jepson Prairie, for example, is a rare remaining remnant of California’s vernal pool habitats, and with the rain this year, it was in its glory, even though we visited well past the prime bloom.
Forrest’s keen ability to differentiate among very small grass-like plants led to my first honest-to-goodness Pilularia americana, in Marsileaceae! This heterosporous beauty was devilishly difficult to pick out among all the Juncus, etc. that invariably surrounded it.
And that’s not all! Forrest also pointed out a colony of Marsilea vestita, one of the “water clovers”, for a clean sweep of North American Marsileaceae genera.
And, of course, no trip with Forrest would be complete without the most inconspicuous of inconspicuous plants–Isoetes! In this case, the California floristic province vernal pool specialist, Isoetes orcuttii.
Jepson Prairie was all about heterospory–the Pilularia, Marsilea, and Isoetes exhausted the local supply of seed-free vascular plants (although Azolla, also heterosporous, has been reported from the site). We were, however, able to delight in members of that third evolution of heterospory, in the form of crazy vernal pool annual angiosperms.
And finally, we even saw some non-plants! Loggerhead Shrikes put on a good show, Seema found a fence lizard, there were lots of tadpole shrimp exoskeletons scattered around the margin of the playa, and American Avocets took noisy exception to our presence.