What's happening at IRRI
Thursday, March 23, 2017, 01:15pm - 02:15pm
"The History and Future of Grasses"
Author: Peter Crane, President
Oak Spring Garden Foundation
Over the past thirty years, the evolutionary history of flowering plants (angiosperms) has been brought into much sharper focus by substantially increased understanding of the angiosperm fossil record, as well as the widespread application of molecular phylogenetics to living plants. These advances have helped situate the evolution of grasses in the broader context of monocot evolution, and have illuminated patterns of ecological, phylogenetic, physiological, and temporal change within the grass family over the past 70 million years. At the same time, large-scale syntheses of bibliographic and herbarium data have provided more rigorous documentation of the dimensions of plant biodiversity, and the extent to which plants are under threat in the wild at a global scale—the most substantial single threat being habitat clearance and modification for agriculture. Thus, the overriding determinant of the future of plants will be the future of agriculture—how we use plants to feed the world. Nowhere is this seeming paradox more obvious than in the grasses, one of the most diverse and widely distributed of all plant families, but also the family on which a vast proportion of global agriculture depends. While only a few of the approx. 650 genera and approx. 11,000 grass species are used widely in agriculture, advances in molecular biology make it increasingly clear that it is a mistake to consider the “economically important” grasses in isolation, since their wild relatives are an important source of genetic diversity and since there is increasing evidence of widespread lateral gene transfer connected to the development of important traits (e.g., C4 photosynthesis) in grass evolution. A broader view, bringing together conservation biologists and agronomists, is therefore important to conserve the evolutionary potential and living variety of grasses as a whole through integrated in situ and ex situ approaches.
Havener Auditorium, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, 4030 Laguna, Philippines