An award is made to Sarah Mathews (Lead PI), Jianhua Li (Co-PI), Harvard University; Reed S. Beaman (PI), Nico Cellinese (Co-PI), Yale University; Christopher S. Campbell (PI), University of Maine; Richard C. Cronn (Collaborator), USDA Forest Service; Sean W. Graham (Co-PI), University of British Columbia; Stefanie M. Ickert-Bond (PI), University of Alaska; Dean G. Kelch (PI), University of California-Berkeley and California State Herbarium; Aaron I. Liston (PI), Oregon State University; Linda A. Raubeson (PI), Central Washington University; Gar W. Rothwell (PI), Gene Mapes (Co-PI), Ohio University; Andrea E. Schwarzbach (PI), University of Texas-Brownsville; Dennis W. Stevenson (PI), New York Botanical Garden; Ruth A. Stockey (Co-PI), University of Alberta to construct sequence-based phylogenetic hypotheses for all living gymnosperms and for seed plants overall, and morphology-based hypotheses to include ALL living species of gymnosperms (conifers, cycads, Gingko, and Gnetales) including examples from the fossil record, along with exemplar angiosperms (flowering plants). Nuclear, plastid and mitochondrial sequences will be utilized in the analysis along with the morphological characters to allow the rich record of fossil gymnosperms to be included. All of the data (molecular, morphological, voucher, etc.) will be submitted to standardized and accessible databases through an enhanced version of the web-based informatics tool TOLKIN (Tree Of Life Knowledge and Information Network, The evolution of the seed marks one of the most important innovations in the history of land plants and led to greater mating control and to enhanced survival and dispersal capabilities. Seed bearing plants dominate the landscape; today, forests and grasslands are among our most important resources. Understanding the origin(s) of seeds is basic to understanding seed plant phylogeny. Obtaining the needed phylogenetic framework is not a trivial undertaking and the multi-faceted approach is designed to address the inherent complexity of the problem, incorporating approaches not considered by all projects (e.g., including all gymnosperms, serious attention to the fossil data). While phylogenetic inference will be the main focus of the project, data will bear significantly on the understanding of historic patterns of biotic change at the global level, and will provide insight into the origins of many important plant traits, including those that are the basis of breeding programs in horticulture and forestry. In addition to training students, workshops for K-12 teachers will be held at several botanic gardens.

Project Report

INTELLECTUAL MERIT Seeds, which contain a plant embryo and nutritional reserves needed for seedling establishment, are central to human health and to the maintenance and regeneration of earth's vegetation. Their reserves of protein, oil, and carbohydrates are the basis of agriculture. Their ability to remain viable for long periods of time is the basis of conservation of plant genetic diversity. Seed-bearing plants comprise the flowering plants, conifers, Ginkgo biloba, cycads, and gnetophytes. They are the predominate elements of all terrestrial ecosystems and serve as major reservoirs for carbon storage. A poor understanding of relationships among and within lineages of seed-bearing plants hinders the sustainable use and management of this important resource because it prevents the identification of plant functional traits that are most important for the success or failure of ecologically and economically important species. Accurate inference of relationships from DNA sequence data has remained a persistent challenge, due in part to the fact that many branches in the phylogenetic tree of seed plants have been trimmed by extinction. Extinct branches of the tree cannot be sampled for DNA data. To address this problem, we designed a project to 1) collect DNA data from significantly more non-flowering seed plants, or "gymnosperms" (conifers, Ginkgo, cycads and gnetophytes), which had been underrepresented in previous studies; and 2) collect structural data from significantly more living seed plant species to deepen the context for interpreting the data from fossils. Prior to this project, the total number of species in DNA data sets that represented the four living gymnosperm groups was 69, or about 15% of gymnosperm diversity. On this project, tissues and/or DNAs were obtained from about 950 living species, and data were generated from about 900 of these, covering about 85% of living diversity. Similarly, previous studies that included fossil seed plants included at most 23 taxa, a number that has been increased nearly 10-fold on this project. Together the data are enabling synthetic, integrated analyses to resolve relationships across the seed plant tree of life. So far, analyses of detailed subsets of the data have revealed a surprising capacity for very ancient groups such as cycads and conifers, whose origins predate the origin of the dinosaurs and whose diversity dwindled in the face of competition with flowering plants, to not only persist through multiple changes in global climate and a mass extinction event, but for some of their taxa to survive, become more diverse, and in at least a few cases become ecologically dominant. Such detailed insights into patterns of survival, growth and success provide insight into the causes of resilience and success, and pinpoint species that are vulnerable to current and future global change. BROADER IMPACTS Curated collections of live plants in arboreta and botanical gardens are ideal settings for workshops designed to show teachers how to use living plant materials in their biology curricula. This project offered four such workshops in partnerships with the New York Botanical Garden, Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, San Francisco Botanical Garden, and the Morton Arboretum. The one- or two-day workshops were developed with the educational staff at each institution in order to provide experiences that would allow teachers to earn professional development credits through their attendance. Attendees were overwhelmingly positive about the content and hands-on exercises, as well as the opportunities to interact directly with the project scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students who taught the workshops. Curriculum modules developed during the course are freely available at the Gymnosperm Tree of Life project website. All project data will be available at and on Morphobank.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)
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Diane Jofuku Okamuro
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Harvard University
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