The flowering plant genus Boechera, with 110 North American species and a number of endangered taxa, is frequently the focus of studies in plant ecology and evolutionary biology. Such studies seek to understand processes of divergent evolution and hybridization in a group that exhibits both sexual and asexual modes of reproduction. Unfortunately, conclusions drawn from previous studies on this group have been severely constrained by a poor understanding of the phylogenetic relationships among its members. Bailey et al. will combine studies from fieldwork across North America, DNA sequences, morphological assessments, and chromosomal information to clarify the phylogenetic relationships among species of Boechera, establish the number and distribution of divergent sexual species vs. asexual species, and assess species boundaries. The resulting phylogenetic tree will be used to test hypotheses about the evolution of reproductive modes over time.
This collaborative effort involves four researchers with extensive experience in diverse areas of biology. The project provides extensive training of graduate and undergraduate students in wide-ranging aspects of organismal and molecular biology. The fact that Boechera is a close relative of the primary plant model organism Arabidopsis adds to the synergistic value and broader impacts of the research. Lastly, the completion of web resources for the dissemination of information on Boechera will provide a valuable asset for researchers and members of the public interested in these fascinating plants.