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Our research aims to understand how physiological diversity arises in wild and crop plants. How do evolutionary and ecological processes shape this diversity? What mechanisms underpin the physiological differences among species?

Scientific Questions

  1. How have plant structure and function adapted to changing ecological conditions on archaeological and geological timescales?
  2. How do physiological processes and structural traits interact, and how do they contribute to the differences in ecological behaviour among plant species?
  3. To what extent can the ecological filtering of plant traits explain the structure of communities, the functioning of ecosystems and the assembly of biomes?

Study Systems

Much of our work looks at photosynthesis and growth in wild and domesticated grasses, encompassing both obscure (but interesting) species, and plants of huge ecological and economic importance. We are especially interested in evolutionary and ecological questions about:

  1. C4 photosynthesis in wild grasses.
  2. Crop domestication and the origins of agriculture.

Hover over and click on the pictures below to see some of our current research interests. For more in-depth descriptions, see our Projects pages.


Our focus is on organismal biology, but we investigate patterns at global and macroevolutionary scales, and address mechanisms using reductionist approaches. The methods we use include:

  • phylogenetics and comparative genomics,
  • physiology coupled with metabolite analysis,
  • manipulation experiments in controlled environments,
  • common garden experiments under natural climatic conditions,
  • comparative statistical analyses of large datasets,
  • and simulation modelling based on mechanistic models of plant function.

For more information about us and our work, check People, ProjectsPublicationsNews and Public engagement pages, or email Colin Osborne.