Chapter 13. Cornhuskers

I finished a masters degree and concluded that Balsamorhiza and Wyethia are quite different from each other. Balsamroots have a rather common set of flavonoids, while mule's ears produce a wild array, several of them previously undescribed. The physical organization of the two genera is also quite different. I wanted to pursue these new ideas about evolution. Jack and Rob S. were trying to quantify organization through changes in variable correlations during development within and among species. I became more interested in their work and realized balsamroots would be perfect for comparative studies. I applied to a doctoral program and planned to work with sunflower cladist Peggy B. at Univ. of Nebraska - Lincoln. I moved to Nebraska and got to know plant morphologist Bob Kaul and herpetologist / cladist John Lynch. During my first field season I set up research plots for four species of balsamroots at several state parks in eastern Washington, tagging individual plants. Some of the larger individuals produced up to 40 flowering shoots each year, allowing me to quantify within-individual variation before the shoots died back to the ground in the fall. I planned to return to the sites for two years, tracking the growth of flowering shoots within and among individuals, populations and species. I could study the relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny by using Jack's exploratory data analysis approach set against a small phylogeny of balsamroots. By gathering data for two years, I hoped to separate variation due to the environment from the variation expressed by individuals, populations and species. I also wanted to know how, or if, the phylogenetic pattern of species relationships would become apparent during development, through changing variable correlations, as the shoots matured.

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