Over 10,000 species of grasses are known to science. Grasses proliferated rapidly, obscuring their historical relationships. This project integrates three broad approaches in a study of grass diversification using contemporary methods to reconstruct the genealogy of the grasses. Next generation DNA sequencing methods will be used to determine complete chloroplast genomes and subregions of the nuclear genome from at least 100 species. Bioinformatics analyses will explore patterns and rates of DNA sequence evolution. Studies of development, especially in leaves, will be used to test whether particular adaptations are correlated with historical migrations into new habitats.
Grasses are of fundamental economic and ecological importance. Rice, wheat, maize and other cereals supply half of human dietary calories. Wild grasses predominate over 25% of Earth's terrestrial landscape. A better understanding of their relationships is fundamental to predicting the response of grasslands and cereal crops to environmental change. Analyses of sequence data will clarify relationships and have broad application in evolutionary studies. Ecological adaptations will be better understood when viewed in a developmental context. An image-rich web site will be established, with content in English and Spanish, with information on grass structure, classification, and evolution. The new framework of grass relationships and accompanying web resources will appeal to a broad range of users and promote international collaborations.