Scientist’s flower power awarded

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AN EVOLUTIONARY biologist who is working against the clock to classify plants before they become extinct has won a Royal Society grant.

Professor Scott Armbruster, of the University of Portsmouth’s School of Biological Sciences, was awarded a £70,000 Wolfson Research Merit Award for a project on the evolution of flower diversity.

Prof Armbruster said: ‘This grant will help fund field trips to Australia and South America to study the floral evolution of selected species, some of which are under threat of extinction.

‘It is vital work to classify them and understand their biology before we lose them.

‘I feel I am running to keep ahead of the bulldozers, literally.

‘My work has a real sense of urgency. If I wait too long, key species may become extinct before I find them.

‘Analysis of evolutionary processes helps us understand how we and other species got here, and if that doesn’t matter, what does?’

Professor Armbruster said that in the 30 years he had been working on plant evolutionary processes, about 10 per cent of the tropical species he studied appear to have become extinct.

As well as using the award to study species of plants and their pollinators, Professor Armbruster will devote some of the money and effort to DNA sequencing, in order to reconstruct the groups’ evolutionary histories.