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31 Oct 2018

eFLOWER Summer School a success

Have you ever wondered what the mother of all flowers looked like? Or how floral characters correlated with one another? Dr Hervé Sauquet from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney is just one of the leading scientists looking to answer these questions plus many more. Hervé recently came back from the Oak Spring eFLOWER Summer School - leading him one step closer to understanding the evolution and diversification of flowers. Read more from Hervé below.

The Oak Spring eFLOWER Summer School was held at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation (OGSF) in Upperville, Virginia last month. The Summer School attracted an exceptional group of 15 graduate students from seven countries and nine nationalities and turned out to be a great success!

Organised by myself, Susana Magallón, Jürg Schönenberger, and Peter Crane, this event was funded by the OGSF and the Society of Systematic Biologists.

The Oak Spring Garden Foundation

The OGSF is a new philanthropic foundation based at the former primary estate of the late Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, who were major philanthropists in the U.S. of the arts, humanities and sciences in the second half of the twentieth century. Led by Sir Peter Crane, OGSF is an ideal venue for small conferences, workshops, and retreats and is becoming a new centre of stimulation of all things botanical.

What is the eFLOWER project?

The eFLOWER project is a long-term international initiative to answer key questions in the evolution of flowers in angiosperms (flowering plants) from their origin ca. 140 million years ago to the present day. Started in 2011, the project is currently led by myself, Jürg Schönenberger and Maria von Balthazar (University of Vienna, Austria), and Susana Magallón (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico).

The first eFLOWER Summer School organized in Vienna in July 2013 had allowed a diverse group of international students to help us build a very large dataset of floral traits, ultimately leading to a new model for the ancestral flower of all angiosperms published in Nature Communications in 2017.

Goals and program of the Summer School

The goal of the Oak Spring Summer School was to deliver high-quality training in the modern comparative methods used to study plant macroevolution, while at the same time offering the students the opportunity to contribute to future targets of the eFLOWER project.
The Summer School was structured around the alternation of ‘Data Days’ and ‘Analytical Days’ (four each). The topics addressed were ancestral state reconstruction, divergence time estimation, and diversification rates.

In addition, three invited speakers from Sweden, Louisiana, and Colorado joined the organizers to deliver daily seminar talks. A day trip to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. allowed the students to visit one of the largest natural history collections in the World.

The talented students

The 15 participants were selected on the basis of a competitive call for applicants. In total, 42 applications were received from 19 countries, resulting in an exceptional and diverse selection of 15 talented students, who remained actively engaged with us throughout the event.

The nine female and six male students came from seven countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Mexico, U.K., U.S.A.) and represented nine nationalities. Twelve were PhD students, two were master’s students, and one was an honour’s student.

Watch this excellent short video produced by Lizzie Joyce (Australian Tropical Herbarium), one of the participants of the School.


The future of eFLOWER

This was an exceptional event and all people involved (organizers, invited speakers, students) were extremely satisfied with the Summer School. This was the longest running event with the largest group at Oak Spring, and the first training course aimed at graduate students. From a scientific and training perspective, our new model alternating data entry and core training in macroevolutionary methods worked very well.

We hope to seek external funding for and organize new eFLOWER Summer Schools every one or two years in rotating locations from this point onwards. Our current goal is to organize the next eFLOWER Summer School jointly with a local university partner right here at the Garden in January 2020.

Oak	Spring eFLOWER Summer School, royal botanic garden sydney
Group picture on day nine of the School.
Category: Science
Tags: botany
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