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Evolution and Development

Head of Group: Professor Beverley Glover
Director of Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Professor Beverley GloverOur area of interest is the evolution and development of floral traits that are important in attracting animal pollinators. By understanding how plants build traits that attract particular animals we aim to understand the diversification of the flowering plants.

We are particularly interested in petal characters such as colour, texture and insect-mimicking spots. We use molecular genetic, systematic and developmental techniques to address these problems, and our lab incorporates a bee behavioural facility to explore pollinator responses.

Understanding plant-pollinator interactions in this integrated way provides us with tools to contribute to the design of strategies to protect biodiversity of plants and animals. It also allows us to engage with plant breeders to optimize pollinator attraction and ensure crop security.

Current projects include:

Petal epidermal morphology

The epidermis of the petal is the first point of contact for the pollinator, and provides visual, tactile, temperature and scent cues. We are exploring the molecular basis of how petal epidermal cell morphology evolves within plant families, and whether it can be optimized to enhance crop pollination.

Nectar spur development

Nectar spurs are tubular outgrowths of the petal that hold nectar. They restrict access to the floral reward so that only animals with a long enough beak or proboscis can pollinate the flower. We are exploring how nectar spurs are built, and how interspecific variation in spur length is controlled.

Structural colour in plants

Most plant colour is produced by pigments, but some particularly intense or iridescent colours are produced by periodic ordering of nanoscale structures. We are investigating how and why plants produce these structural colours, and have developed a new genetic model in which to explore how surface patterns are regulated.

Petal spot development

Spots on the petal can attract pollinators in a variety of ways, including by mimicking other insects. We are exploring how petal spots develop, how their position in the petal is controlled, and what the genetic basis of intraspecific and interspecific petal spot variation is.

 

bee
From left: A developing daisy composite inflorescence; A bee gripping a leaf.

From top: The petal epidermis of a speedwell flower; Blue structural colour produced by the fruit of Pollia condensata; Insect-mimicking spots  on the capitulum of Gorteria diffusa.