We are a group of evolutionary biologists, plant systematists, and field botanists, interested in eyebrights (Euphrasia). Our currently active projects are:
Evolutionary dynamics of hybrid speciation
Hybridization can contribute to the evolutionary process through many means, one of which is through the formation of new hybrid species. The process of hybrid speciation has intrigued generations of biologists, including Stebbins and Grant, as it provides a mechanism for the rapid formation of new taxa. Alex Twyford (University of Edinburgh) is studying the process of hybrid speciation in the British Euphrasia species E. vigursii and E. rivularis. These species are of particular interest as their putative parental taxa have contrasting mating systems (selfing and outcrossing), and differing ploidies (diploid and tetraploid), and as such may be expected to make differing contributions to the hybrid species. These results will help us understand the repeated outcomes of this important evolutionary process, and improve our knowledge of the formation of recent endemic taxa.
Field guide and systematics
British Euphrasia are a challenging group of plants to identify in the field, due to species differing in complex suites of traits, and the frequency of hybridization which blurs species boundaries. This problem is being addressed by Chris Metherell and Fred Rumsey, who are working towards a BSBI handbook to help botanists identify Euphrasia species. This illustrated book will include keys to all the British species and common hybrids, and provide an up-to-date taxonomy.
Conservation and taxonomic complexity
British Euphrasia include a number of rare and endangered species, many of which are of high conservation concern. However, strategies aimed at conserving individual rare species are unlikely to be successful in such a taxonomically complex group. Instead, Richard Ennos and Pete Hollingsworth, along with Graham French and Harriet Stone, have advocated for strategies that conserve the ongoing evolutionary processes in Euphrasia. This conservation strategy builds on their genetic analyses within and between British Euphrasia species, which have shown most species are genetically cohesive units, with novel diversity evolving in hybrid zones.