Evolutionary geneticists have their Drisophila, or fruit flies, and microbiologists have their E. coli. Now tropical rainforests researchers have their own “model genus” in the form of Piper, a remarkable group of tropical plants that has proven amenable to all manner of scientific inquiry. Although not as spectacular as many other rainforest plants, this group of unassuming shrubs, vines, and small trees is abundant and diverse, with about 1,000 species throughout the tropics. Piper species have been the focus of biologists for decades, as a foothold in the tangled web of ecology and evolution that make tropical rainforests unique. Now Earthwatch-supported ecologist Dr. Lee Dyer (Tulane University) and colleague Dr. Aparna Palmer (Mesa State College) have edited the first synthesis of this important body of work, a resource for future studies in the rainforest.
Piper: A Model Genus for Sudies of Phytochemistry, Ecology, and Evolution demonstrates how the genus Piper has helped scientists achieve a better understanding of a range of issues, from plant-animal interactions to phylogeny. Dyer, principal investigator of Earthwatch’s Forest Caterpillars project, coauthors a chapter on the evolutionary ecology of certain chemicals exuded by Piper plants, called amides, which deter herbivores. Other chapters look at pollination ecology, seed dispersal, biogeography, and classification of Piper species. Although too technical for most lay readers, this synthesis is a valuable framework for other researchers planning future investigations in the tropical rainforest.
Piper: A Model Genus for Studies of Phytochemistry, Ecology, and Evolution. Lee A. Dyer and Aparna D. N. Palmer (eds). Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2004.