The week-long Gordon Research Conference in Ventura focused on the topic of speciation, attended by more than 100 scientists obsessed with figuring out how biodiversity is generated. How do species form? Why are some species very different and other species very similar? What happens when species mate with each other and form hybrids? My lab at the Arnold Arboretum seeks to answer these questions by investigating the incredible diversity of phlox wildflowers that grow across North America. Our colleagues were presenting work on all kinds of interesting organisms including little spiny stickleback fish, charismatic finches on the Galapagos islands, and vibrant longwing butterflies. Of course, our favorite work involved fascinating plant stories. We learned amazing things about how herbivores can cause plants to become less attractive to pollinators, how a plant can turn its flower after pollination to control where its ripened seeds will land, and how pollen competes on the pistil of a plant—the winner gets to be the father of seeds.
Along with stimulating conversations about science we had the opportunity to explore the coast of California. We even got to go whale watching! Can you spot the whale tail? Although we had a great time at the conference, we are excited to be back at the Arboretum and ready to smell spring flowers, see new leaves, and collect more exciting data about how species are formed.