Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

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April 24-25, 2014
National Museum of
   Natural History and
the U.S. Botanic Garden
Washington, DC


Smithsonian Botanical Symposium 2014 — Presented by the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History Department of Botany in collaboration with the United States Botanic Garden with support from the Cuatrecasas Family Foundation:

"Location, Location, Location...New Advances in the Science of Biogeography"

The distribution of the earth's biodiversity is not random in space and time. Individual species ranges and entire ecosystems are uniquely shaped by the intersection of ecological and geographic constraints, opportunity, and evolutionary history. Scientists have long sought to recognize these distribution patterns and to understand their underlying processes. Significant advances have been made in the science of biogeography, which weaves together biology and geosciences, as knowledge of our planet's geologic history has improved and as new analytical tools and sources of data have become available. We anticipate even greater discoveries and major syntheses in the future and this exciting scientific discipline is more relevant today than ever, especially in the face of global climate change that will drastically reshape the biogeography of life on earth.

The 12th Smithsonian Botanical Symposium, hosted by the Department of Botany and the United States Botanic Garden will celebrate the past contributions of biogeography and look toward future ones that bring a deeper understanding of the relationship between our planet and its biota. The invited speakers will address why "location" matters with a wide range of modern studies and applications on the geography of life.

Chromolithograph from E.J. Ravenscroft's Pinetum Britannicum

Sequoia is prominently featured in Asa Gray's 1872 theory about the relationship between the similar floras of North America and Asia (Am. Nat. 6: 577-596). This chromolithograph from E.J. Ravenscroft's Pinetum Britannicum (1884) depicts the California endemic "giant sequoia" (Sequoiadendron giganteum).


Smithsonian Botanical Symposium 2014 Selected Images

[Click any image to enlarge. Use slide show controls or your left and right arrow keys.]

Symposium guests enjoy conversation and food at the opening reception. (Photo by Ken Wurdack)
Poster presenters and guests interact at the opening reception of the Smithsonian Botanical Symposium. (Photo by Ken Wurdack)
Smithsonian's Department of Botany Chair Warren Wagner welcomes attendees of the 12th Smithsonian Botanical Symposium. (Photo by Ken Wurdack)
Susanne Renner, University of Munich, speaks about historical and ecological biogeography. (Photo by Ken Wurdack)

Rachel Warnock, Department of Paleobiology, provides insight into fossils and the molecular clock. (Photo by Ken Wurdack)
Ben Winger, University of Chicago and the Field Museum, discusses biogeography of Neotropical bird migration. (Photo by Ken Wurdack)
Symposium convener Vicki Funk (fourth from left), Botany Chair Warren Wagner (fifth from left), and U.S. Botanic Garden Acting Executive Director Ari Novy (second from right) join speakers Ben Winger, Susanne Renner, Rachel Warnock, Brian Bowen, Mauricio Diazgranados, Jonathan Price, and Erica Goss at the 2014 Smithsonian Botanical Garden at the National Museum of Natural History.
 (Photo by Ken Wurdack)
Jonathan Price, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Answering big questions with small landmasses: Evolutionary biogeography from Atlantic and Pacific archipelagos. (Photo by Ken Wurdack)

Brian Bowen, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, Origins of tropical marine biodiversity. (Photo by Ken Wurdack)
Erica Goss, University of Florida, Untangling the origin and global movement of notorious Phytophthora plant pathogens. (Photo by Ken Wurdack)
Mauricio Diazgranados, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution, Biogeography and climate change in the Andes. (Photo by Ken Wurdack)
Closing reception (Photo by Ken Wurdack)


Thursday, April 24, Evening Events
The United States Botanic Garden
6:00 p.m. Opening reception and poster session. United States Botanic Garden, Washington, DC.

Friday, April 25
Morning Session
NMNH Baird Auditorium
9:00 a.m. Registration and Coffee. Evans Gallery (enter through Constitution Avenue Lobby)
9:30 a.m. Opening Remarks, Warren L. Wagner, Chair of Botany, Smithsonian Institution. Presentation of the José Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany, Laurence J. Dorr, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution.
Symposium Convener: Vicki Funk, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution
10:00 a.m. Susanne Renner, University of Munich, Germany, “Historical biogeography and ecological biogeography - come together now.”
10:45 a.m. Coffee Break, Executive Conference Room
11:15 a.m. Rachel C.M. Warnock, Department of Paleobiology, Smithsonian Institution, and Philip C. J. Donoghue, University of Bristol, U.K., “Testing the molecular clock using simulated trees, fossils and sequences.”
12:00 p.m. Ben Winger, University of Chicago and the Field Museum, “Resolving the geographic history of Neotropical bird migration: An extension of the DEC model.”
12:45 p.m. Lunch break - on your own

Afternoon Session
NMNH Baird Auditorium
2:30 p.m. Jonathan Price, University of Hawaii at Hilo, “Answering big questions with small landmasses: Evolutionary biogeography from Atlantic and Pacific archipelagos.”
3:15 p.m. Brian W. Bowen, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, “Origins of tropical marine biodiversity.”
4:00 p.m. Coffee Break, Executive Conference Room
4:30 p.m. Erica M. Goss, University of Florida, “Untangling the origin and global movement of notorious Phytophthora plant pathogens.”
5:15 p.m. Mauricio Diazgranados, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution, “Biogeography and climate change in the Andes.”

Evening Events
NMNH Rotunda and Exhibits
6:15 p.m. Symposium reception. Museum Rotunda

Speakers’ Abstracts and Biographies

Origins of Tropical Marine Biodiversity
Brian W. Bowen, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, U.S.A.

Understanding the process of speciation in the sea is a significant challenge in evolutionary biology. Central to this issue is whether biodiversity hotspots such as the Coral Triangle (between the Philippines, New Guinea, and Indonesia) are producing and exporting new species, or accumulating species that arose elsewhere. Phylogeographic studies yield conflicting results on this issue, but have rejected three paradigms about marine biodiversity: 1) Speciation is primarily driven by physical isolation. In contrast, many closely-related species occupy the same or adjacent habitats, reducing the role of physical isolation (allopatry) for speciation in the sea. 2) Peripheral habitats such as oceanic archipelagos are evolutionary dead-ends that contribute little to overall biodiversity. In contrast, new studies show that oceanic archipelagos can export biodiversity to other regions. 3) Speciation in the sea follows the same rules as in terrestrial systems. Evolutionary pathways above and below the waterline follow markedly different trajectories due to the higher dispersal capability of marine organisms. The realignment of these principles allows for a new understanding of biodiversity production in the sea. Biodiversity hotspots produce and export species, but can also accumulate species produced in peripheral habitat. New species forged by intense competition at biodiversity hotspots can radiate out to depauperate peripheral habitats, where they may evolve novel functions under the “ecological opportunity” proposed by G.G. Simpson. In this reconciliation of “center of speciation” and “center of accumulation”, both hotspots and peripheral ecosystems benefit from this exchange in a process named biodiversity feedback.

Brian Bowen began a lifelong interest in marine biogeography by spending summers on Cape Cod, at the boundary between the Gulf of Maine and the mid-Atlantic coast. After an ill-advised attempt at a biomedical career, he earned a B.S. in biology at Providence College (1980), a M.A. at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (1987) under John A. Musick, a Ph.D. in genetics (1992) under John C. Avise at University of Georgia, and subsequently worked as a postdoctoral researcher and assistant professor at University of Florida. In March 2003 Bowen joined Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at University of Hawaii, and was promoted to Research Professor in 2009. During this interval he conducted globe-spanning genetic surveys of marine fish and turtles, for a total of about 170 publications. Recent accomplishments include co-authorship of the best-selling textbook Diversity of Fishes, and a realignment of marine biogeographic provinces with John Briggs. Bowen runs a large lab with Robert Toonen, with the goal of identifying how marine biodiversity is generated and maintained, in the service of conservation. Bowen is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a marine turtle specialist for the IUCN Species Survival Commission.


Biogeography and Climate Change in the Andes
Mauricio Diazgranados, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution, U.S.A.

The Andes are the most topographically and climatically complex orographic system in the world. With the driest places and some of the wettest localities on Earth, and elevations from sea level to almost 7000 m, the Andes have a striking diversity. The tropical Andes, holding about 45,000 plant species, with 45% of endemism, are considered a global hotspot and epicenter of biodiversity. Unfortunately, massive extinctions are predicted to occur in the Andean high-elevation ecosystems as a result of climate change: studies have predicted that between 10 and 60 percent of the species will be extinct by the end of the century. In fact, climate change can push entire lineages to the verge of extinction, with irreversible gene pool losses, unique to those lineages. However, there is still little research documenting and predicting these changes, and several caveats in the analyses persist. Evolution and biogeography are important aspects when modeling the impacts of climate change on future species distributions. An example will be explored using three clades of Compositae (the subtribe Espeletiinae, the Werneria s.l. complex and the Chiliotrichum group) that span the high elevation Andean ecosystems from Venezuela to Patagonia. Of particular importance are: 1) number of occurrences per species: how well we know their diversity; 2) resolution: the problem of scale; 3) accuracy of predictors: how well we know the ecosystems; 4) uncertainty in future climate predictions; 5) the dilemma of the narrowly distributed species; 6) computing limitations; and 7) measuring the possible species responses to climate change.

Mauricio Diazgranados is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History. He is interested in studying rapid radiations of tropical plants, and he currently works on the systematics and biogeography of the Compositae from the Andes. A native of Colombia, he received his B.S. from the Javeriana University of Bogotá in 1999. He was appointed as director of the HPUJ herbarium of the Javeriana University in 2001, and received a postgraduate diploma in Bioethics from the same university in 2005. He completed his Ph.D. from Saint Louis University in 2012, working on the phylogenetic and biogeographic relationships of the frailejones (subtribe Espeletiinae, Compositae) of the Northern Andes. In collaboration with Vicki Funk and Mauricio Bonifacino, he is currently evaluating the impacts of climate change on three clades of Compositae (Espeletiinae, Werneria s.l. and Chiliotrichum s.l.) of the high elevations of the Andes. Diazgranados has earned 26 research grants, including a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement grant from the National Science Foundation and a grant from the National Geographic Society. His 10 awards include the American Society of Plant Taxonomists’ George R. Cooley Award for the best-contributed paper in Plant Systematics presented by an early-career botanist in 2012.


Untangling the Origin and Global Movement of Notorious Phytophthora Plant Pathogens
Erica M. Goss, University of Florida, U.S.A.

The pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine, Phytophthora infestans, had an enormous impact on human history and culture. Phytophthora infestans is just one member of a genus of destructive plant pathogens that cause global economic losses in the billions of dollars annually and have irreversibly changed natural ecosystems. These pathogens are largely known from agriculture or as emerging forest pathogens. Little is known of their native ecology or geographic origins, which puts us in a poor position to manage emerging diseases and prevent future invasions. I will present recent insights into the origin and anthropogenic movement of Phytophthora pathogens. We revisited the question of the origin of P. infestans, which some have argued is Mexico and others South America. Our results have implications for the emergence and continued evolution of this damaging pathogen. We are also exploring the diversity of Phytophthora in minimally disturbed tropical forests, which has provided novel insights into the native biology of these species and will contribute to understanding the evolution of Phytophthora pathogens.

Erica Goss is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida. She started working on plant pathogens at the University of Chicago, where she received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution in 2005. Her work on Phytophthora plant pathogens began as a postdoctoral researcher working on the sudden oak death pathogen with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Corvallis, Oregon. Her research interests are in the phylogeography and evolution of plant pathogens, particularly in mechanisms of emergence and re-emergence. In 2013, she was recognized as by the American Phytopathological Society as one of the discipline’s "faces of the future".


Answering Big Questions with Small Landmasses: Evolutionary Biogeography from Atlantic and Pacific Archipelagos
Jonathan Price, University of Hawaii at Hilo. U.S.A.

Oceanic islands historically have provided a biogeographic lens through which major questions in ecology and evolution have been made clearer. They are optimally simple systems comprising small landmasses with modest diversity and definable spatial and temporal constraints. At the same time, their climatic and ecological complexity mimics that of continental systems. A mounting wealth of phylogenetic studies, particularly for the Hawaiian and Canary Islands, sets the stage for studies of whole floras, supporting a comparatively thorough understanding of the processes by which integrated ecological systems arise. Whereas traditionally species-area relationships have been attributed to ecological processes, phylogenetic diversification can now be explicitly quantified and related to the spatial and historical characteristics of islands. Pacific and Atlantic archipelagoes exhibit features of triphasic species-area relationships, whereby larger archipelagoes contain much larger numbers of species (even for comparably-sized islands), with large, adaptively-radiating lineages responding the most strongly to increases in area. Ecological opportunity is a key driver of diversification, as evidenced by higher rates of speciation within islands and archipelagoes that are more remote and/or physiographically complex.  Major adaptive shifts in continental systems happen comparatively rarely, indicating a prevalence of niche conservatism; however the comparative frequency of adaptive shifts on islands offers clues to how major episodes of adaptive evolution have occurred on continents. Tropical islands appear to promote the disproportionate ecological success and adaptive diversification of lineages with a temperate origin, possibly stemming from a greater lability in temperate taxa coupled with the abundance of open niches in island environments. 

Jonathan Price is an associate professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo. His dissertation work at University of California Davis focused on rectifying the physical and climatic history of the Hawaiian Islands with patterns of species diversity. As a Smithsonian postdoctoral fellow, he examined three Pacific archipelagos with respect to the origins and diversification of their floras. His research now includes mapping habitat for Hawaiian plant species (under contemporary and climate-change conditions), examining the role of ecological interactions (particularly bird pollination) in plant community assembly, and comparative biogeography of Pacific and Atlantic archipelagos.


Historical Biogeography and Ecological Biogeography - Come Together Now
Susanne Renner, University of Munich, Germany

Molecular phylogenies, haplotype networks, and molecular clocks have revolutionized the science of biogeography. We can now (roughly) date divergence events in groups with or without a good fossil record and infer the history of populations from entire single genomes. In this talk I will discuss ongoing work on the biogeography of hummingbirds, parasitic plants, and the fern Osmunda, as well as work by others on Amborella trichopoda, the sister species to all other flowering plants.  My examples are chosen to represent groups with and without a fossil record to illustrate the power of molecular data, but also the difficulty of inferring the past from the few "tips" of the tree of life that are currently surviving. New methods that I will highlight include Pairwise Sequential Markovian Coalescence (used in Amborella trichopoda) and a calibration approach by Tracy Heath, Tanja Stadler, and John Huelsenbeck, which makes use of all of a clade's fossils, not just the oldest ones (used in our Osmunda work).

Susanne Renner is the Chair of the Systematic Botany and Mycology section at the University of Munich and the director of the Munich Botanical Garden and herbaria (M and MSB). She was a postdoctoral fellow at the U. S. National Herbarium from 1985-1987 and has since held professorships at the universities of Aarhus (Denmark), Mainz (Germany), St. Louis, and Munich (since 2003). Her research interests are the evolution of plant sexual systems, plant/animal interactions, biogeography, and horizontal gene transfer. She is a member of the academies of science of Denmark, Bavaria, and Germany, which goes to show that Bavaria is special.


Testing the Molecular Clock using Simulated Trees, Fossils and Sequences
Rachel C. M. Warnock, Departments of Paleobiology and Invertebrate Zoology, Smithsonian Institution, U.S.A.
Philip C. J. Donoghue, University of Bristol, U.K.

The molecular clock provides a powerful means of establishing an evolutionary timescale. Approaches to calibrating the molecular substitution rate vary in their assumptions and complexity, differ in their use of geological evidence, and invariably yield different divergence estimates. Surprisingly, competing approaches to calibration have never been tested because in reality the true evolutionary timescale is never known. Consequently, it has not been possible to assess the accuracy and precision with which divergence times can ever be known. The solution is to use simulated data, where the relationship between times of divergence and fossil evidence is known. We develop simulations that combine realistic models of speciation, molecular evolution and fossil preservation. We test the accuracy and precision of quantitative and probabilistic methods of deriving temporal constraints from the fossil record. We implement these as bespoke calibration priors in Bayesian molecular clock analyses, and assess the accuracy and precision of posterior divergence estimates. The results demonstrate that paleontological constraints can be accurate but will typically be imprecise. Accurate molecular divergence estimates require both accurate and precise fossil-based constraints. However, the accuracy of posterior estimates is not determined by the accuracy of the specified calibrations. Instead, accuracy is determined by the way the calibrations are effectively implemented by contemporary Bayesian models of divergence time estimation. This means the majority of studies that have identified a causal link between biotic evolution and climatic change may be invalid, since they lack the accuracy and precision to make the temporal correlations that underpin the causal linkages.

Rachel Warnock is a paleobiologist interested in computational approaches to estimating evolutionary rates and times, and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Departments of Paleobiology and Invertebrate Zoology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. She recently completed her Ph.D. at the University of Bristol, where her research focused on how to characterize paleontological and geological uncertainty in the calibration of the molecular clock. Warnock’s postdoctoral research aims to develop approaches to incorporate stratigraphic information in Bayesian models of divergence time estimation. The project will focus on the diversification of the coral-reef-associated gastropods Cypraeidae, and will assess the impact of environmental changes on the radiation of this important tropical fauna during the Cenozoic.


Resolving the Geographic History of Neotropical Bird Migration: An Extension of the DEC Model
Ben Winger, University of Chicago and the Field Museum, U.S.A.

Migratory species exhibit seasonal variation in their geographic ranges, often inhabiting geographically and ecologically distinct breeding and nonbreeding areas. The complex geography of seasonal migration has long posed a challenge for inferring the biogeographic histories of migratory species as well as the evolution of migration. We developed a phylogenetic model of geographic range evolution to examine the biogeographic origins and histories of migratory species and test hypotheses on the evolution of migration. The model uses a maximum-likelihood framework based on the dispersal-extinction-cladogenesis model to simultaneously examine changes in breeding range and winter range distribution during phylogenetic history. We used this model to investigate the geography history of seasonal migration between North America and the Neotropics in emberizioid passerine birds.

Ben Winger is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago and the Integrative Research Center at the Field Museum of Natural History. He uses genomics, population genetics, and phylogenetic comparative methods to study speciation, historical biogeography, and character evolution in birds. Fieldwork for his dissertation has primarily taken place in the Andes of Peru and Ecuador. Recently, he collaborated with Rick Ree (Curator of Botany at the Field Museum) to develop a phylogenetic model for untangling the complex geographic history of seasonal bird migration.




United States Botanic Garden of Washington DC

Cuatrecasas Family Foundation

Office of the Associate Director for Research and Collections, NMNH

Hosted by the Department of Botany of the Smithsonian Institution.

Visitor Information


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