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Glencoe, IL, United States

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Systematics & Biodiversity Sci | Award Amount: 78.00K | Year: 2016

This award supports a workshop in China to develop collaborations in the field of systematics and biodiversity research between US and Chinese scientists. Discovering and documenting the wealth of Earths biodiversity and determining how these millions of life forms are interrelated are labor intensive activities. International research is a nearly universal aspect of modern systematics, and building effective and productive collaborations is essential. This research requires scientists to cross national boundaries to study plants, animals, fungi, and microbial species in their native habitats. No single country has all the expertise, resources, or human capacity to accomplish this essential research on their own. The United States and China are home to many researchers who are active in systematics, paleontology, biodiversity discovery and related fields, but collaborations are relatively few. It is with these thoughts in mind that this workshop has been organized to discuss the need for greater collaboration between US and Chinese systematists, and mechanisms that will facilitate the development of new collaborative relationships. The focus of the workshop is systematics, broadly defined to include the study of the diversity and evolutionary history of life, including both living and fossil taxa.

The workshop will be three days in length and will include 30 participants and potential collaborators from the US and a similar number of participants from China. Participant selection is based on criteria seeking to: maximize taxonomic diversity representation among the species being studied; find equal representation among scientists working on biodiversity inventory, taxonomy, and phylogeny; provide broad representation of museums, botanic gardens, universities, colleges, and other institutions. Workshop management will be handled by six co-organizers (three in the US and three in China) and a steering committee of three additional participants. After the workshops are concluded the organizers and steering committee will prepare a comprehensive report for public distribution. This workshop will benefit the discipline more broadly by improving scientists abilities to share resources and address a diverse range of questions that depend upon solid understanding of biodiversity and systematic relationships. Enhancement of international collaboration will also benefit individuals directly through enhanced career development.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: CROSS-EF ACTIVITIES | Award Amount: 1.55M | Year: 2014

Relationships among flowering plants and insects represent one of the great engines of terrestrial diversity. Plant scents are important drivers of these relationships (herbivory, plant defense, pollination), but remain poorly integrated into our understanding of floral evolution and pollination ecology. This study examines the role of floral scent in the diversification of the western North American evening primroses (Onagraceae) and their pollinators (hawkmoths, bees) and floral and seed predators (Mompha moths). Hypotheses that integrate across the genetic, phylogenetic, and functional dimensions of biodiversity are developed from the Geographic Mosaic Theory of Coevolution, which posits that variation in plant-animal interactions across the distribution of a species creates shifting evolutionary trajectories that drive local diversification. The research examines functional trait variation and selective forces in the field and experimental arrays, the genetic basis of the variation from the population to phylogenetic level using comparative genomics, and patterns of phylogenetic diversity in Onagraceae and Mompha. Mompha is a poorly understood genus that is the only known lepidopteran group to specialize on Onagraceae.

Few studies have tested the full spectrum of plant fitness outcomes when volatiles attract both mutualists and enemies, and no current studies have investigated scent-driven, geographic diversification in groups of interacting organisms. The hidden diversity of floral and seed predators and their potential as selective agents constitutes a considerable gap in pollinator-centric understanding of floral evolution. The integration of chemical ecology and comparative genomics provides a first attempt to explore the impact of past selective pressures on current patterns of diversity in non-model organisms. Additionally, the investigators will engage over 200 students (high school - graduate school, interns, and postdocs) in field work, experiments, and genomics/informatics activities. Private and public land owners and volunteers will participate in and/or be informed of conservation-focused components of this study.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Biodiversity: Discov &Analysis | Award Amount: 465.37K | Year: 2014

The Early Cretaceous of Mongolia is well known for its fossil dinosaurs and other vertebrates, but fossil plants from Mongolia are very poorly studied. This project will examine diverse assemblages of fossil plants from multiple Early Cretaceous age localities that are yielding new, abundant, and exceptionally well-preserved seed plant fossils. The goal of the research is to discover, characterize, document and understand the implications of these newly discovered fossil plants that date to a critical interval for changes in the flora of the Earth. The fossil material will be studied primarily using scanning electron microscopy and high-resolution X-ray microtomography. The excellent preservation provides a rare opportunity to reconstruct ?whole plants? from multiple co-occurring fossils of extinct Cretaceous species.

This study is important in several respects. The overarching objective for the study is to inform a deeper understanding of seed plant evolution. The research will add significantly to knowledge about extinct seed plants during the Early Cretaceous, an interval of major and rapid evolutionary and vegetational change. The project will strengthen international collaboration among US, Japanese and Mongolian scientists and students. Student involvement and communicating science to the public are institutional priorities and will be accomplished through on hands training for students, feature articles, website presentations, and exhibition outreach at the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Field Museum.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: RSCH EXPER FOR UNDERGRAD SITES | Award Amount: 330.22K | Year: 2015

This REU Site award to the Chicago Botanic Garden (Glencoe, IL) will support the training of 10 students over 10-week periods during the summers of 2015-2017. This REU Sites focus is on plant biology and conservation, spanning from genomic to ecosystem levels. Mentors are drawn from the Garden, Northwestern University, and partner institutions. Mentors diverse areas of expertise enable students to conduct research on a variety of topics, including evolution, pollination, conservation, genetics, invasive species, soil science, and restoration ecology. Students participate in professional-development activities; field trips; and weekly discussions addressing topics like ethics, graduate school, and scientific communication. The REU program is integrated into a near-peer training continuum: participants are paired with graduate student co-mentors and high school mentees. Target participants include students from groups underrepresented in the sciences, those who are the first in their family to attend college, non-traditional students, veterans, and students who lack extensive research opportunities at their home institutions. Students are recruited nationally and are selected based on their academic record, statement, letter of recommendation, potential to benefit from the experience, interviews with prospective mentors, and program goals.

It is anticipated that a total of 30 students, primarily from groups underrepresented in the sciences and schools with limited research opportunities, will be trained in the program. In addition, the Garden hosts affiliated interns who add to the diverse research community experienced by REU participants. Students will learn how research is conducted, and many will present the results of their work at scientific conferences. All participants will present their findings at a large, multiple-institution symposium.

A common web-based assessment tool used by all REU programs funded by the Division of Biological Infrastructure (Directorate for Biological Sciences) will be used to determine the effectiveness of the training program. Students are tracked to evaluate the effects of this research experience on their future academic and career paths. Information about the program is assessed through follow-up surveys, including use of an REU common assessment tool. More information is available by visiting http://www.cbgreu.org or by contacting the PI (Dr. Jeremie Fant at jfant@chicagobotanic.org) or co-PI (Dr. Daniel Larkin at dlarkin@chicagobotanic.org).

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: PHYLOGENETIC SYSTEMATICS | Award Amount: 20.11K | Year: 2015

Legumes are the third largest family of flowering plants. These economically and ecologically significant plants range in size from tiny desert herbs to giant rainforest trees. While recent research has elucidated relationships among the major lineages in the family, little is known about many of the nearly 20,000 species, especially the processes that generate this diversity. This study will use recently developed next generation DNA sequencing methods and statistical computer modeling to resolve the evolutionary relationships among a large and widespread group of tropical legumes and to infer what role, if any, adaptation to new environments has played in the diversification of these species. Given their wide distribution and ecological diversity, understanding the relationships among these species will provide a framework for future comparative studies and enhance our understanding of the overall evolution of the legume family. The project will also include a significant training component to expose undergraduates in STEM fields to the latest tools and analytic methods.

This study will combine phylogenomics, ecological niche modeling, and information from the fossil record to elucidate the relationships among the species of the tropical genera Cynometra and Maniltoa and will investigate the role niche conservatism plays in biogeography and speciation mechanisms. Next generation sequencing is revolutionizing the practice of systematics, biogeography, and evolutionary biology. While the technology has been applied to both very deep and very shallow evolutionary questions, its application to species level phylogenetics, particularly in plants, remains limited. However, it is at the species level that these new techniques hold the greatest promise to resolve previously intractable relationships. In addition, when combined with ecological niche modeling and geographic range data, the well resolved phylogenies these methods are capable of producing allow researchers to study speciation mechanisms and the role of niche conservatism in generating observed patterns of diversity. If, for example, allopatric sister species consistently segregate along environmental axes, then ecologically mediated selection may have a role in speciation, whereas if allopatric sister species are consistently identical or nearly identical in abiotic niche space, then ecological divergence is not a major factor driving speciation. To address this question, the researchers will: 1) conduct field work and visit herbaria in Brazil (the center of diversity for the genus) to better characterize diversity and distributions of Brazilian species; 2) reconstruct a well resolved species level phylogeny using data generated with targeted sequence capture techniques; and 3) characterize the abiotic niche of the constituent species using ecological niche modeling and distribution data. Analyses of these data will provide a much more precise understanding of evolutionary and biogeographic history of Cynometra and Maniltoa and the mechanisms driving these processes.

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