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We are very happy to announce that Dr Eric Madrid is the winner of the Annals of Botany Graduate Prize for a paper reporting work from a thesis published in volume 103, as decided by the Editors and Charity Trustees. His paper ‘The developmental basis of an evolutionary diversification of female gametophyte structure in Piper and Piperaceae’ (Madrid and Friedman, 2009) is a remarkable piece of work, for the first time putting the six patterns of tetrasporic female gametophyte development that are known in angiosperms within a phylogenetic context. With a careful analysis of Piper peltatum using a range of complementary techniques, Eric and his PhD supervisor, Dr W. E. (Ned) Friedman were able to infer the developmental processes responsible for female gametophyte structural diversification in the Piperaceae and make points of widespread importance to plant development.
Eric studied the evolution of female gametophyte development in an ancient lineage of angiosperms, the Piperales, for this PhD dissertation. He combined light microscopy, laser scanning confocal microscopy, and three-dimensional computer reconstruction software to document the nuclear positioning events and vacuole morphologies that characterize female gametophyte ontogenies in Piperaceae. These data are important because modifications in female gametophyte development directly affect the genetic construct of their downstream product – namely endosperm. Within Piperaceae, there are five different ways in which endosperm may be built, and each of these constructs is associated with an alternate pattern of female gametophyte development. Eric's comparative data resolve previous ambiguities in interpretations of female gametophyte development in Piper, and the developmental modifications identified with his three-dimensional models allow for the construction of explicit hypotheses of female gametophyte developmental evolution within Piperaceae, and more broadly throughout Piperales.
These data have a broad significance. A review of the embryological literature demonstrates that the overall sequence of developmental modifications, and predictable intermediate stages that he describes in Piperaceae, are found across all angiosperms, indicating that the evolutionary–developmental changes he has described for Piperaceae may apply to angiosperms as a whole. These data demonstrate how novel microscopy techniques can be combined with molecular phylogenetic data to generate hypotheses about developmental evolution in angiosperms.
Eric is currently a postdoctoral fellow for the Texas Institute of Oceanography where he works with Dr Anna Armitage in the Marine Biology Department at Texas A&M University at Galveston. Eric is using basic principles in plant evolution and development to identify constraints on the distribution of mangrove tree species in the Gulf of Mexico. His initial findings indicate that mangrove distribution is largely constrained by homoplasious morphological modifications that were necessary for the evolution of the mangrove habit. These findings are important because the distribution of mangrove tree species throughout the Gulf of Mexico is changing in response to climate and is expected to continue changing in the future.