This summer, I attended the 12th Clonal Plant Symposium that was held in Brunswick ME on the Bowdoin Campus (July 29-Aug. 2). This conference was part of a series of international symposia have been held every three years since 1988 (when I was in graduate school) and were established to “advance the scientific understanding of the physiology, ecology, and evolution of clonal growth in plants.” Over 30 years these meetings have been held in 10 countries, attended by plant ecologists from around the globe, and have served as a forum for the exchange of ideas and communication of new research discoveries. This was the first time the symposium has been hosted in the United States and I served on the Steering Committee that organized the event.
Clonal plant species grow by producing vegetative copies (think strawberry runners!) and this growth form confers numerous adaptive advantages that are analogous to animal behavior. Clonality allows for the possibility of resource foraging through the selective placement of vegetative offspring and resource sharing among interconnected offspring in patchy environments. Since survival can be directly correlated with the size of a clone, the spread of vegetative copies allows for the long-term persistence of genetic individuals in populations. In fact clonal species are considered some of the longest living organisms on the planet. Clonal growth in plants has long been an important cross-cutting theme in my lab and my research has addressed many aspects of clonal plant biology. At the conference, I presented results from research I am conducting with Dr. Ashley Morris (MTSU) and Dr. Elise Kikis (Sewanee) on the ecology and spatial genetic structure of native bamboo (hill cane) populations on the southern Cumberland Plateau. Our research was one of several studies presented at the conference that used contemporary molecular techniques to determine genetic diversity in clonal plant populations.