Lecture: plants’ secret powers

2014-04-29 00:00

AS part of the Royal Society of South Africa’s Lecture Series 2014, Professor Lawrence D. Harder will present a lecture with the title “Machiavellian flowers: power and control in plant reproduction” tomorrow at 5.45 pm at the John Bews Lecture Theatre, Life Sciences campus, Carbis Road, Pietermaritzburg.

In general, plant reproduction involves interactions between participants with contrasting self-interests. Although such interactions are evident in sexual conflict, parent-offspring competition and sibling rivalry, they are most obvious for plants that rely on animals to disperse their pollen. Pollinators typically visit flowers to obtain food and while serving their self-interest they coincidentally disperse pollen, which serves the plant’s self-interest. Although mutual benefit can result, it need not, and various characteristics of flowers act as evolutionary adaptations to manipulate pollinators and promote pollen dispersal.

Using examples drawn from his research during the past two decades, Harder will interpret a variety of floral and inflorescence characteristics from this perspective. These examples provide explanations for: why plants are so attractive; why they restrict pollen removal by individual pollinators; the high frequency of pollination by deceit in orchids, but not other angiosperms; and the size and structure of inflorescences, including the segregation of sex roles. Harder completed his PhD in Zoology in 1983, but increasingly appreciated the greater virtues of plants, in their own right and as subjects for developing and testing concepts about ecology and evolution. Since joining the University of Calgary, Canada, in 1986, he has published over 100 research articles, primarily about plant reproduction, as well as co-editing a volume titled Ecology and Evolution of Flowers.

All are welcome. Inquiries to Professor Mike Perrin, on 033 260 5118 or 5435 or Dr Andreas Jürgens on 033 260 6492.

— Supplied.

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