C4 photosynthesis: from leaf evolution to global ecology

OCTF seminar followed by drinks – all welcome – booking required

Speaker: Prof Colin Osborne, Professor of Plant Biology, University of Sheffield

C4 plants use a carbon-concentrating mechanism to improve photosynthetic efficiency compared with the ancestral C3 type in hot, low CO2 environments. The evolution of this photosynthetic physiology has been widely credited for the ecological success of grasses in dominating tropical savannas. This talk will examine how the evolution of C4 photosynthesis overcame environmental limitations, how a greater efficiency of photosynthesis changed the biology of the whole plant, and how the resulting changes in plant-environment interactions transformed ecosystems. Experimental work comparing large numbers of plant species has established some general mechanisms responsible for C4 plant success. In combination with large-scale biogeographic analyses, this work shows the importance of evolutionary history in understanding global ecology today.

Colin is Professor of Plant Biology, and Associate Director at the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield, a university-wide initiative that aims to build a global community of sustainability leaders through its PhD programme, and to help connect sustainability research with ongoing policy debates. Colin has been at Sheffield for 21 years, following a PhD at the University of Essex and BSc at the University of Manchester.

Colin’s research investigates how physiological diversity in wild plants arises from evolutionary and ecological processes, and the consequences of this diversity for ecosystem structure and function. Photosynthesis and growth are of particular interest, since the productivity of photosynthetic organisms is the energetic basis for almost all life on Earth. How have evolutionary innovations and domestication increased the productivity of wild species? And how does growth interact with other traits to influence ecological behaviour? Work in this area is multi-disciplinary, spanning biogeographical analyses, phylogenetic investigations across evolutionary timescales, experimental physiology comparing multiple species, and genomic investigations of plant evolution.