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BPP STUDENTS AWARDED PRESTIGIOUS NSF GRADUATE RESEARCH FELLOWSHIPS

Elizabeth Bowman will graduate with a BS in Botany this June. She will then begin her Masters program at the University of Arizona with Elizabeth Arnold, studying fungal endophytes and mycorrhizae associated with Pinus ponderosa. Her research specifically is going to look at how environmental factors and host-symbiont genotypic variations affect the host-fungal relationship. The study is to designed to (1) characterize for the first time the timing and frequency of co-infection in seedlings under natural conditions; (2) use manipulative experiments to test the relative success of tissue colonization given different abundances, diversities, and species compositions of each symbiotic partner (i.e., symbiotic states); and (3) examine the relative benefits of symbiotic state under climate-relevant conditions of biotic and abiotic stress.

Brian Atkinson, began his PhD program in Fall 2012 with Gar Rothwell and Ruth Stockey in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology on the 'Phylogeny and Fruit Evolution in Early Diverging Asterids: Initial Radiation of Cornales'.  He is characterizing the explosive evolutionary radiation of the dogwood order, Cornales that occurred during the Late Cretaceous (100-66 million years ago) by focusing on a variety of fossil fruits and flowers from ancient ecosystems that date back to 89-86 million years ago. Cornales is the earliest diverging order of the most diverse group of flowering plants, the asterids (>80,000 species). Clarifying the initial radiation of this early asterid order is  crucial for expanding our knowledge of flowering plant evolution and phylogeny.

The Late Cretaceous is an important time in which many flowering plant groups underwent significant diversification. However, there is little data regarding cornalean evolution during that time interval, thus the fossils that he is investigating are critically important for increasing our understanding of the diversification of this important group of flowering plants.

The questions he is addressing in this investigation are:

1) What characteristics delineate Late Cretaceous cornalean fossil species?

2) What do these fossils indicate about the early radiation of Cornales during the Late Cretaceous?

3) What are the paleobiogeographic implications of these fossils?

Answering these questions will provide a large amount of data on the early diversification of Cornales as well as the asterids during this crucial time in the Cretaceous period. Furthermore, understanding these Late Cretaceous fossils in a systematic framework while applying comparative and developmental concepts will allow him to develop new hypotheses of cornalean relationships, to test tree based clade-age hypotheses for Cornales, and to clarify patterns in evolution within the asterids.

CONGRATULATIONS TO ELIZABETH AND BRIAN ON YOUR OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS

(photo of Elizabeth Bowman holding the bear's head or the western coral hedgehog mushroom (Hericium abietis) taken by Sara Lynch)