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Why Study Evolution?


A new display at the end of the Life and Times exhibit highlights Burke Herbarium curator Dick Olmstead’s research on the diversity of plants in the verbena family within the broader context of evolution. It is the first in a series of displays planned over the next few years to spotlight NSF-funded research of Burke curators who are tackling ongoing questions about the evolutionary processes that give rise to biodiversity. The centerpiece of the introductory section is a “Tree of Life” that illuminates Charles Darwin’s metaphor for how all living things are related. Reconstructing the Tree of Life is a goal of evolutional biology and a starting point for understanding the processes that give rise to biodiversity.

Olmstead’s research on Verbenacae has spanned more than twenty years of field research in North and South America. The display highlights both the findings of his research and how he conducts it, including unlocking the secrets of plant DNA. Included are a video, specimens, photographs, and texts, as well as several “QR Codes” that allow visitors to download links to more detailed information.

Dr. Richard Olmstead with Argentine Botanists (from left: Don Pedro Estrada, MarĂ­a MĂșlgura, and Alejandrina Alaria).
Verbena rigida, taken in Corrientes, Argentina
Photo by Dr. Richard Olmstead.

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