• Academics
Lawrentians Present Original Research at 65th Gesneriad Convention

On July 8, Jane Atkinson ‘24 and Lindsay Lee ‘23 shared their original phylogenetic research on the Gasteranthus plant genus in a symposium at the 65th Gesneriad Convention in Tacoma, Wash. Their research, introduced for the first time to the scientific and horticultural communities, was gathered over the course of the spring term and early summer through science teacher John Clark’s biodiversity co-curricular. The Lawrentians were the only high school students to present at the symposium, designed to inform the horticultural community about the latest scientific discoveries in the Gesneriad family.

“I am not aware of high school students conducting this type of research,” said Clark. “These are rare plants and our access to tissue samples is based on more than two decades of field work that was supported by several grants including the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society.”

Lee’s presentation, “A preliminary phylogeny of Gasteranthus: a genus in need of an updated classification,” concluded that Gasteranthus is, in contrast to previous research, not monophyletic suggesting the convergence of floral shapes and the need to reevaluate the current classification of species. The presentation explained the genus Gasteranthus in terms of its evolutionary relationships based on DNA sequencing and geographic range with increased sampling of species from western Ecuador. Her presentation also touched on the rediscovery and phylogenetic placement of Gasteranthus extinctus (pictured below) in western Ecuador, a species previously thought to have been extinct that was rediscovered in November of 2021. The rediscovery was published by an international team of botanists that included Clark. Lee’s presentation represents the most comprehensive species-level phylogeny for Gasteranthus.

Gasteranthus extinctus

Atkinson’s presentation, “Elucidating the History of Corolla Shapes in Gasteranthus: More Tales of Convergent evolution,” focused on the pattern of evolution in Gasteranthus’s flower shape traits - campanulate (bell-shaped) and pouched. Explaining the new evolutionary discoveries in Gasteranthus as well as the DNA sequencing process were the main initiatives of her presentation. The discovery of Gasteranthus’s two flower shapes evolving multiple times (evolutionary convergence) instead of each shape sharing a single ancestor described an unexpected pattern that differs from previously published phylogenies. Atkinson also discussed the unique G. perennis, which Clark found displays both flower traits - the pouched trait when immature and the campanulate trait when mature.

“These are rare plants that represent unique biodiversity hotspots. My goal and motivation for this type of research is to promote biodiversity for the ongoing conservation of rapidly disappearing forests,” said Clark. “Students at Lawrenceville have the unique opportunity to participate in the scientific process through lab- and field-based research. I hope that Lindsay and Jane continue to develop their research skills on campus and beyond. The scientific field of biodiversity is best understood from a field- and lab-based perspective. Lindsay and Jane honed their lab skills, so it’s time for them to see these plants in the wild. I hope that they join me on the 2023 Lawrenceville in Ecuador Program.”

Editor’s Note: Clark is currently in Ecuador and, along with local guides and Lily Hooge ‘23, just located a new patch of Gasteranthus extinctus. Follow his journeys on Instagram @phinaea. 

For additional information, contact Lisa M. Gillard H'17, director of public relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.