Many undergraduate research opportunities are available at the
Intermountain Herbarium. These projects give students an opportunity
to work closely with instructors, earn credits, and to publish
their work. Specific project ideas are listed to the right.
Focuses on different kinds of things
Are these plants different from all others that have been described?
How do these two sets of plants differ?
How many different kinds of plants are in this region?
Where do these different kinds of plants grow, geographically or ecologically?
What do we mean by “different kinds of things”?
Initially things that look alike are alike
For convenience (human, not plant), have boxes for relative degrees of “alikeness”
Kingdom (algae, fungi, plants are in herbaria)
Division (Bryophytes, Ferns, Flowering plants; Basiomycetes, Ascomycetes)
Class (Monocots, Dicots)
Order (Plant people more or less ignore this level in practice)
Family (BIG DEAL)
Genus( BIG DEAL)
Species (BIG DEAL)
Determining which kinds of things constitute a “different kind of thing” is TAXONOMY , aka classification
Relatedness and likeness seen as closely tied together
Likeness result of inheritance from common ancestor – usually
Likeness in everything, morphology, anatomy, development, compounds, ..
1930s on, relatedness tied to genetic likeness – but evidence comes from morphology, anatomy, development, compounds, ability to hybridize…
Those that emphasized focus on information used determine relatedness rather than classification wanted a new word – SYSTEMATICS
Developed numerical methods and computer programs that assess huge amounts of multidimensional data and come up with groups of different kinds of things for taxonomists to classify
Phenetics: similarity determines groupings – assumed that person will try to ensure the similarities are a consequence of genetic similarity (not an easy task)
Cladistics: inheritance of characteristics determines grouping – assumed that person will ensure the similarities are a consequence of genetic similarity (not an easy task)
PHYLOGENETICS is study of ancestor descendant relationships and nowadays applied only to studies that involve cladistic analysis
Molecular techniques, particularly PCR, made feasible acquisition of huge amounts of data, required use of computer programs for analysis
Cladistic analysis relatively simple to apply to molecular data
Molecular data is expensive to acquire so few samples are examined
Small portion of genome examined
Gene interactions not examined
Methods of inheritance of some genes not as simple as first thought
Polyploidy is a major confounding factor in discerning plant phylogenies
Phenetic analysis, whether with computer or human brain, can readily be applied to large sample sizes
Look for correlations; if all data tells the same story, story gains credibility
Requires considering characters that are determined by many genes
Is selection on genotype or phenotype?
Biology is always complex
Current Activities and Opportunities