Preconceptions, Evolutionary Strategies And Mosses

It's hard not to see the world through the lens of our own preconceptions and biases.  We tend...

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Ian RamjohnRSS Feed of this column.

A Trinidadian in Oklahoma, I am an ecologist interested in tropical dry forests and island ecology. I also have a blog called Further Thoughts

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The 12th edition of Berry Go Round, the botanical blog carnival, is now online at Foothills Fancies.  Lots of good reading to be had.
There's a discussion going on over at Wikipedia regarding the naming convention for articles about plants.  In general, article titles are supposed to be the "most common" name for the thing in English.  But when you're trying to compile "the sum total of human knowledge", that simple rule can be problematic.  Do you really want to use "the most common" name, or do you want to use the most accurate name?  After all, Wikipedia seeks to be an encyclopaedia.

Things get far worse when you try to write articles about plant species.  There are about a quarter million species of flowering plants.  Most of them lack common names in English.  But where they exist, common nam

In a closed system (and the biosphere as a whole is a closed system) the only way to generate additional species is through evolution. 

While the evolution of new species is a necessary condition for the generation of diversity, it isn't good enough on its own.  If a species splits into two daughter lineages that are unable to interbreed, you should have two species.  But in order for them to coexist in a given area, some sort of ecological difference needs to have evolved.  If two species occupy the same area, they are in a position to compete for resources.  The more similar their needs, the more intense the competition is likely to be. 
If you set out to answer questions about species diversity, there are two questions you need to consider - how is diversity generated, and how is diversity maintained?
In my recent post on Mexican dry forest, I mentioned the fact that about 80% of the species in the genus Bursera were endemic to Mexico.  Things like that tend to jump out at you.  Why are there so many species in one area, relative to the rest of its range?

Bursera simaruba has always been one of my favourite tree species. It’s a dry-season deciduous tree with compound leaves and a coppery peeling outer bark and a green (presumably photosynthetic) inner bark.  It’s a conspicuous element of tropical dry forests in Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico and parts of southern Florida (where they call it the ‘gumbo limbo’ tree).  In all these places it’s the only representative of its genus.  In my experience, Bursera was Bursera simaruba, so I was surprised when I came across a Bursera that was grown from seed collected in Costa Rica that was obviously not B. simaruba