Morphology, adaptation and speciation

Plant adaptation arises from their morphology, itself a product of evolution and development. In this figure, the aspects and interactions of research at different levels are shown, with the work having implications across botany, including understanding plant phylogeny and speciation, and for ecology and ecosystems.

Heslop-Harrison JS. 2017. Morphology, adaptation and speciation. Annals of Botany 120(7): 621-624.

The study of plant evolution and development in a phylogenetic context has accelerated research advances in both areas over the last decade. The addition of a robust phylogeny for plant taxa based on DNA as well as morphology has given a strong context for this research. Genetics and genomics, including sequencing of many genes, and a better understanding of non-genetic, responsive changes, by plants have increased knowledge of how the different body forms of plants have arisen. Here, I overview the papers in this Special Issue of Annals of Botany on Morphological Adaptation, bringing together a range of papers that link phylogeny and morphology. These lead to models of development and functional adaptation across a range of plant systems, with implications for ecology and ecosystems, as well as development and evolution.


The study of evolution and development (evo-devo) has advanced plant research including speciation (Fernández-Mazuecos and Glover 2017); and as Theodore Dobzhansky stated in 1973, ‘nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution’. But what options are there for plant architecture to evolve – from the gene to cellular to organ and on to whole plant and ecosystem level? As suggested in the mind-map of Fig. 1, we are now in a good position to exploit data from morphological and genetic studies to understand the key processes of evolution and development, taking those results to find their impact on ecology and ecosystems. The papers in this special issue cover a diverse range of species, organs (related to leaves, roots and flowers) and approaches (from advanced microscopy to DNA fingerprinting), to show how modern plant studies can be integrated to lead to models of evolution and understand plant development in the broadest context.


About Pat Heslop-Harrison

Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics and Cell Biology, University of Leicester Chief Editor, Annals of Botany. Research: genome evolution, breeding and biodiversity in agricultural species; the impact of agriculture; evalutation of research and advanced training.
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