Chelsea’s research has helped her learn a lot about the diversification of ginger plants and what role pollination has played in this radiation. She found that many ginger species have converged on the same pollination syndromes and that evolving specialized pollination syndromes may trigger an adaptive radiation in that lineage. Although those might seem quite separate topics from protecting endangered species, according to Chelsea, even questions about pollination syndromes can be directly applied to conservation efforts. For example, she asks, “If all the hummingbirds disappeared tomorrow… what would that do to the gingers in South America? Would they stop evolving new species?… We don’t know.” But future research along these lines should help answer those questions.
Next up for Chelsea is another conservation-minded problem: using DNA fingerprinting to identify rare, stolen plants (some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars!) and to return them to their wild populations. In that effort too, she will rely on evolution to help her understand how these rare species have evolved genetic differences and how to identify them on the basis of their genes. As she puts it, “I think that an understanding of evolutionary biology is critical… If you don’t understand evolution, you can’t understand diversity. Diversity didn’t just appear, it got there somehow, and if you don’t know how it got there, you’re not fully able to understand how it’s disappearing.”
Discussion and extension questions:
- What is a clade, and how are clades used in modern classification?
- Imagine that you discover two species of wildflower with quite similar looking flowers — same basic arrangement of petals, same shape, same color. Describe two different evolutionary explanations for their similarities.
- All the species in a particular clade of butterfly have the same color wings. Use the principle of parsimony to explain how they all ended up with the same color wings.
- This article discussed pollinator specialization as a key innovation. Research another possible example of a key innovation and explain why it might be considered a key innovation.
- This article discussed a possible example of adaptive radiations in the Costaceae. Research another possible example of an adaptive radiation and describe it, making sure to discuss what factors allowed the radiation to occur.
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